Coronavirus in the Workplace
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe employers and employees are faced with tough questions and concerns. Below we would like to address some of those employment-related questions and concerns. This situation is constantly evolving, we will continue to monitor the situation and update information as it becomes available.
- Do employers have the right to know an employee’s diagnosis?
Although employees are not normally required to disclose their medical diagnoses, under the current circumstances they are required to disclose if they have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus or if they have been exposed. Employers are also required to notify other employees without disclosing the identity of the individual to avoid any potential discrimination.
- Do employers have the right to know if an employee has travelled? Can employers require quarantine for employees who recently traveled?
Yes, employers have the right to know if an employee has traveled. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has advised against all non-essential international travel and require that all travelers self-isolate for 14 days after returning to Canada.
- Can an employer require mandatory testing for employees to return to work?
No, requesting universal testing before employees return to work will only overburden the health system. Public Health authorities have established that anyone who has travelled to an affected area or has a family member that has the virus is required to self-isolate for 14 days. And anyone exhibiting symptoms should contact their physician or public health authorities to arrange for testing.
- Can an employer require a medical certificate?
Requesting employees to go to their doctor’s office to obtain a medical certificate is an unnecessary risk of contamination and will only overburden the health system. There may be a small risk that some may take advantage of this situation but in the present context this is much more acceptable than the alternative.
- What if an employee refuses to work?
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employees are within their right to refuse to work if they believe there is a threat or risk to their health and safety. If an employee refuses to work because of fear of contracting the coronavirus, the employer is required to investigate and find a solution that keeps all employees out of danger. Employees cannot be disciplined or dismissed for refusing to work. Based on the nature of their job, some employees are not entitled to refuse to work on safety grounds (e.g., police, firefighters, hospital employees, etc.).
- Is there Employment Insurance (EI) for employees asked to remain in isolation?
For employees sick with the virus, sick leave provisions apply. EI provisions have been changed to waive the 1 week waiting period for sick benefits. Employees can now receive EI for the entire 14-day quarantine period.Employees who have been asked to self-isolate as a precautionary method do not qualify for EI sick benefits at this time. The Government is exploring other ways to aid those employees with wage loss as a result of COVID-19. In the mean-time Employers can try to find alternate working arrangements such as work from home if possible.
- Are employers required to report suspected case of COVID-19 to Public Health?
Employers are not legally required to report suspected case of COVID-19 to Public Health. The employee however should report their suspicion to their health care practitioner so that an assessment can be done, including testing if deemed necessary.
- What if an employee refuses customer contact?
If the customer contact is mandatory, implement policies and best practices to the maximum extent about distancing (ideally 2 meters), hygiene, cleaning computers and other equipment and sanitizing surfaces that are frequently touched so that employees and the public remain safe.
- How can we help employees during the school and daycare closures?
The Government of Ontario introduced new legislation on March 16, 2020. It provides an entitlement to job protected leave for employees who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day care closures due to COVID-19.
- How can we educate employees about staying safe during this time?
Have access to government websites. Provide information about the spread of the virus, containment strategies such as washing your hands, social distancing and respiratory etiquette.
Click, print and post these posters:
- Can an employer require an employee to use sick days?
If an employee is in isolation because they have the virus, then they should be considered to be on sick leave and should use any paid sick days they are entitled to through the employer’s leave policies. They should also apply to Employment Insurance to coordinate the receipt of sick benefits with their employer provided paid sick leave plan.
Apply for Employment Insurance
If an employee has been required to self-isolate but has not been diagnosed as having the virus, they are not currently entitled to Employment Insurance yet, however, this may change as governments are exploring ways to assist employees in this situation. In the meantime, employers are encouraged to allow employees to use paid sick days if they provide such a benefit.
- Can an employer force employee to use banked vacation?
Employees should be permitted to but not required to use vacation days or partial vacation days to offset loss of income if they choose to do so.
Mandatory closure for all non-essential workplaces
The Ontario Government has announced mandatory closure for all non-essential workplaces effective Tuesday, March 24th, at 11:59 PM for 14 days with the possibility of extension as the situation evolves.
List of Essential Businesses in Ontario
Employment Standards Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020
On March 19, 2020, the Ontario government passed the Employment Standards Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 allowing employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for reasons related to COVID-19 and other designated infectious disease.
More information from the Ontario government.
You can get up-to-date, credible information and advice on the coronavirus here:
- Government of Canada
- Government of Canada Travel Advisories
- Ontario Ministry of Health
- From the Canadian Government – KNOW THE DIFFERENCE: Self-monitoring, self-isolation, and isolation for COVID-19
- Increasing the Canada Child Benefit this year