The number of cases of the novel coronavirus around the world has increased sharply, including several more announced in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The number of cases in Canada is still relatively low, but employers should take steps now to prepare for the inevitable uptick in Canadian cases in the coming months.
In February 2020, following the first few Canadian cases of COVID-19, the virus commonly called "coronavirus", Norton Rose Fulbright published guidance for employers in Quebec and Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. These documents outlined employers' obligations with regard to leaves and accommodation, as well as ways to mitigate the transmission in the workplace. Within the past months, authorities have published further information on how to manage the workplace in light of the global epidemic, which we have summarized below.
Guidance provided by public health authorities
The workplace health and safety regulators of some provinces have published best practices for employers, while other provinces' regulators are directing employers to follow the advice of provincial health authorities:
Updated March 8, 2020
The main symptoms are as follows:
The symptoms can be mild (similar to a cold) or more severe (similar to those associated with pneumonia and respiratory or kidney failure).
In rare cases, infection can lead to death. People most at risk of complications are those with a weakened immune system or a chronic disease and older people.
Québec residents who develop fever or cough symptoms or respiratory difficulties when they return from a trip outside of Canada are invited to contact Info‑Santé 811. As needed, the caseworker will tell them what institution to visit for a check-up. If a consultation is required, it is important for residents to inform the health care facility about their travel history before they go to the facility or when they arrive so that the necessary preventive measures can be taken.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine for the COVID 19. Supportive treatment can, however, be provided.
Most people with COVID 19 will recover on their own.
Coronaviruses usually cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. In most cases, they are spread by:
In general, coronaviruses do not survive for long on objects:
Travellers from Hubei Province, China (the epicenter of the COVID‑19 outbreak) must follow the detailed recommendations on the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) in China.
Travellers from Iran must follow the detailed recommendations on the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) in Iran.
Travellers from mainland China and other countries must follow the detailed recommendations on the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19): Travel advice page.
Travellers from the MS Westerdam must follow the detailed recommendations in the For passengers from the MS Westerdam cruise ship section of the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19): Travel advice page.
Recognized hygiene measures are recommended for everyone:
Those who are worried or anxious about the coronavirus, can contact the Info‑Social 811 psychosocial telephone consultation service. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Updated March 8, 2020
The Province of Ontario's guidance on COVID-19 indicates:
Coronaviruses are spread mainly from person to person through
close contact, for example, in a household, workplace or health
care centre. There is no vaccine available to protect against the
2019 novel coronavirus.
There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses. Ontarians are urged to take these everyday steps to reduce exposure to the virus and protect their health:
If employees are travelling to an area known to have cases of coronavirus, they should be sure to avoid:
Employees who have returned from Hubei province (China) or Iran, where returning travellers are advised to self-isolate should:
Employees who have returned from areas under a travel health advisory for COVID-19 should:
Published March 8, 2020
Alberta Public Health Officials are recommending the following actions as a precaution:
If an employee does not meet the exposure criteria above, they do not need to stay away from work, and do not need any testing or a physician's note to attend work.
Published March 6, 2020
WorkSafeBC is currently advising employers and workers that special precautions for COVID-19 are not required, beyond the recommended measures to prevent common respiratory viruses like influenza.
These measures include:
In addition, health care workers are recommended to consistently apply appropriate infection prevention and control measures, including hand hygiene, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including masks and eye protection, when assessing patients with respiratory illness, and performing a risk assessment before providing care.
Government of Canada
Updated March 8, 2020
Employers and employees have a role to play in reducing the spread of infection. Further information on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 (PDF) is available from the World Health Organization.
Flexible Work Arrangements And Sick Leave
Workplace closures may be considered in an exceptional circumstance and should be based on a risk assessment. This may be the case if many employees must be off to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition, employers in all jurisdictions should consider how employees might be compensated if they cannot report to work due to diagnosed quarantine, self-quarantine, or other reasons related to the coronavirus. When considering this question, the goal will be to strike a balance between the sometimes competing health and safety obligations, human rights implications and employee privacy concerns. In doing so, employers would be wise to consider:
- Paid alternative work arrangements, if feasible
- Amending policies to allow employees to avail themselves of sick and vacation days, and any other leave entitlements under contract or a collective agreement
- Encouraging employees to inform themselves of any relief provided by the federal government for employees who are unable to work
- Encouraging employees to consult with their insurer and qualified healthcare professional to consider short-term disability leave.
- Advising employees who travel to contact their benefits provider to determine whether it will cover out of country medical costs that employees incur in "hot spots," as some insurers may be declining coverage in these areas.
About Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP
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Wherever we are, we operate in accordance with our global business principles of quality, unity and integrity. We aim to provide the highest possible standard of legal service in each of our offices and to maintain that level of quality at every point of contact.
For more information about Norton Rose Fulbright, see nortonrosefulbright.com/legal-notices.
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