Guidelines to help prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. As of March 18, 2020, there have been more than 208,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Patients with the condition have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Employers and employees may have questions about what they can do to help manage the situation and prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. Here are some guidelines that can help:

#1: Monitor guidance from health officials

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Government of Canada and the World Health Organization have created dedicated webpages with information on COVID-19. In addition, provinces, territories and local health officials are developing guidelines and resources on the illness.

#2: Develop and communicate workplace policies

Develop hygiene policies aimed at keeping the workplace clean and reducing the spread of communicable disease including social distancing. Policies should be consistent with public health recommendations and existing laws. Provide employees with information on how viruses are transmitted and help employees practice healthy habits by providing tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap and sanitizer, and disposable towels. Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food. The situation is evolving quickly, so review and update policies as more information becomes available.

#3: Encourage employees to stay home if they're sick

Encourage employees to stay home from work if they're sick. Avoid pressuring ill workers to return to work too soon. Inform employees of the company's paid time off or sick leave policies and associated call-in procedures in the event of an absence due to illness.

#4: Offer flexible work arrangements

Flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, flexible schedules, and staggered schedules can help prevent the spread of the illness by allowing employees to work without exposing themselves or others to the virus. Greater use of teleconferences and e-mail versus face-to-face meetings are additional social distancing strategies that can help prevent the spread of illness.

#5: Send symptomatic workers home

If an employee shows symptoms of acute respiratory illness, separate them from other employees and send them home immediately. Remind sick employees to cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).

#6: Consider business-travel restrictions

To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Canada advises that you avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. Effective March 18, 2020, the Government of Canada is closing its borders to foreign travellers in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Review the CDC 's and the Government of Canada travel guidance and develop business-travel rules that make sense for your company. Monitor the situation closely and adjust your rules as circumstances change.

#7: Address sick family members

Ask employees to notify you if they have a family member who has COVID-19 and direct them to Government of Canada guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. Visit the Government of Canada website for details on how to care for those who are ill.

#8: Obtain information cautiously and only as necessary

Ask employees who call in sick if they're experiencing symptoms, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Avoid questions that are likely to elicit information about a disability, which could result in the employee revealing that they have a condition.

#9: Maintain privacy

Treat all information about an employee's illness as a confidential medical record and keep the information secure and separate from their personnel file. If you wish to inform employees about a communicable disease in the workplace, do not reveal who has the illness.

#10: Develop a business continuity plan

Depending on the size of your business and the number of ill workers, you may experience impacts to your day-to-day operations and your bottom line. Consider a business continuity plan that outlines essential business functions and essential jobs or roles required to maintain business operations. In addition, consider cross-training employees so they can fill in for co-workers who are absent. Train employees on your plan so they're prepared to execute it if needed.

#11: Protect employees from discrimination and harassment

Every province’s and territory’s (as well as the federally-regulated sector’s) human rights law prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees based on certain protected characteristics. Employees whose families are, or are perceived to be, from places where an outbreak has occurred may face discrimination and/or harassment as a result. Take all complaints seriously and launch a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the complaint. If an investigation reveals that discrimination or harassment occurred, take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Consider disciplinary measures that address the severity of the offense and administer your disciplinary policy on a consistent basis.

Conclusion and more information:

Employers should monitor guidance from health officials, develop and update policies and practices that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, comply with applicable laws, and consult legal counsel as needed.


Protecting Your Workforce and Understanding Policies as Your Organization Responds to COVID-19

As employers develop their coronavirus response strategy, they need to stay mindful of attendance and leave polices and regulations, employee privacy, anti-discrimination, and other employment law considerations, while keeping an eye on brand reputation and business communications.

This webcast offers insights and best practices, including:

  • Key HR and business challenges
  • Compliance considerations
  • Leading practices
  • Reliable sources of information
  • Next steps

An on-demand replay of the 35-minute webcast is available now.

March 20, 2020