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Workplaces, Employers and Employees
Every worker in Ontario has the right to refuse work that he or she believes is unsafe to himself/ herself or another worker and may expose them to undue hazard. This right is covered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. A work refusal is a last resort effort to protect the worker from exposure to the undue health hazard when efforts to have the risk mitigated have not been satisfactorily addressed.
An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For the COVID-19 pandemic, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure. In these circumstances, the worker is advised to follow the detailed procedures outlined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act to resolve the issue.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act does not mandate employers to implement health monitoring for COVID by performing temperature checks in the workplace. Temperature checks alone may not provide sufficient information to determine whether or not a worker suffers from COVID-19, as it presents with a range of symptoms which often overlaps with many other illnesses. As a result, the presence of a fever alone may not be indicative of COVID-19, nor does it rule out its absence.
Employers who choose to perform these checks should be aware that individual health information is kept highly confidential in accordance with Ontario’s Personal Health Information Privacy Act. It is important for employers to note that employees must give informed and voluntary consent before their temperature can be read and documented. To ensure that the temperature is accurately taken, consider asking a trained medical professional to perform the task. The personnel should review the direction of use for the thermometer or scanning equipment to ensure it is performed properly.
Workplaces must screen any workers or essential visitors entering the work environment. See the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces for more information. Some businesses or organizations must screen patrons, depending on the current level of public health measures. See our Fact Sheets for Specific Businesses and Organization to learn more, including screening and signage advice for specific sectors.
An employer may require an employee to provide a medical note from a health practitioner such as a doctor, nurse practitioner or psychologist when the employee is taking the leave because of personal illness, injury or medical emergency if it is “reasonable in the circumstances” https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/sick-leave.
However, the employer can ask only for the following information:
- the duration or expected duration of the absence
- the date the employee was seen by a health care professional
- whether the patient was examined in person by the health care professional issuing the note
- Employers cannot ask for information about the diagnosis or treatment of the employee’s medical condition.
It is recommended that employees who are sick to not attend work until symptom free for 24-hours. Your employer will put in policies and procedures to limit exposure in the workplace. Employers with employees recently returning from travel should follow public health guidance and make the following considerations:
- Non-essential travel outside of Canada should be avoided and all returning travelers are required to self-isolate for 14 days under the Quarantine Act. Individuals who are self-isolating should NOT go to work.
- At any time during self-isolation if symptoms develop residents should contact their healthcare provider or the WECHU at 519-258-2146 to determine next steps.
- If individuals have had contact or potential contact with a case of COVID-19, they should contact their primary care provider or the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit at 519-258-2146 for information.
Please refer to the Ministry of Labour for any further questions related to workplace practices.
The health unit does not issue return to work letters related to COVID-19 or any other illness. Please note that the Ontario government made changes to the Employment Standards Act and as a result employees do not need to provide a medical note if they need to be off work for illness. For more information, visit the Government of Ontario website.
We encourage that employers follow Health Canada guideline for Hard-surface disinfectants for use against coronavirus (COVID-19) to ensure that your workplace is kept clean and safe for clients and employees. For surfaces that are frequently touched such as door handles, knobs, railings, taps, light switches and telephones, Health Canada recommends cleaning with approved agents like regular household cleaners and diluted household bleach. We advise that employers ensure that staff responsible for cleaning, use disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN), an 8-digit number located on the package, as its indicative that the agent has been approved by Health Canada to be effective against COVID-19.
A person may have been exposed if they:
- Were identified as a close contact of a positive case.
- Were in contact with a positive case, but not in close contact.
- Attend, reside in, or work in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak. As indicated above, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit identifies outbreak settings and provides specific instruction, where applicable.
- Visited a location identified as a possible COVID-19 exposure. Refer to the list of ‘Possible COVID-19 Exposures’ and specific instructions.
- Have travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days. Learn about quarantine for travellers without symptoms and travellers with symptoms.
- Received a notification from the COVID Alert app that they have been exposed. They should self-isolate immediately and schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 test.
Store instructions can be found under ‘Retail’ on our Fact Sheets for Specific Business and Organizations page.
Please visit an assessment centre to get tested for COVID-19 and confirm whether you are positive or negative. While waiting for your results, please isolate. If you test positive, please continue isolating, contact your health care provider, and note that you will be contacted by a public health nurse for further direction. If you are negative, you can return to work if you have been symptom free for 24 hours.
All confirmed cases receive guidance from health unit nurses. Positive cases of COVID-19 must self-isolate for 10 days after their onset of symptoms. It is important that individuals receive and follow guidance from public health staff in order to reduce the risk of any further transmission of the virus. At the end of the 10 days, provided they have been symptom free for 24 hours or longer, individuals would be able to return to work and practice ongoing physical distancing, avoiding public places and self-monitoring for symptoms in line with all public health community recommendations. Individual workplaces can create their own guidelines and policies regarding return to work for their employees as long as they do not conflict with the public health guidance recommendations.
Yes, LLD is sufficient. Disinfectants should have a DIN or NPN. High- touch surfaces should be disinfected twice daily and when visibly soiled. Surfaces that come into contact with clients should be disinfected after each client (e.g. hairdressing/barbering chair). For more information on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and equipment refer to Public Health Ontario’s Guide to Infection Prevention and Control in Personal Service Settings, 3rd edition.
When a health unit region is in the Yellow-Protect or higher level, some sectors must prepare a COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan. Learn more by visiting our COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan Requirements page.
Due to confidentiality concerns, the health unit will not be contacting workplaces to discuss individual cases however, individuals may be contacted as a part of the contract tracing process. Individuals should inform their employer of their test results so that proper health and safety measures can be put in place.
Yes, as part of health and safety requirements, employers are encouraged to develop and implement hygiene and physical distancing training programs that are tailored to work environments and are in accordance with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit guidance for COVID-19. Such coordination will help ensure plans are aligned with current national and provincial regulations and guidelines, and agencies have sufficient resources and workforce planning in place to carry out their business in a safe manner.
The WECHU follows up with all COVID-19 cases and close contacts of any person confirmed with COVID-19 through laboratory tests. A “close contact” is defined as:
- A person who provided care for the case, including healthcare workers, family members or other caregivers, or
- Who had other similar close physical contact, or
- Who lived with or otherwise had close prolonged contact with a probable or confirmed case while the case was ill.
If you are concerned about your safety at work, please contact your human resource department or internal occupational health and safety committee. If you have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 you will be contacted.
Capacity is based on the ability for clients and staff to remain at least 2m from one another. To accomplish this, operators may need to render workstations inaccessible, use physical barriers, provide visual cues (e.g. indicating with tape on the floor), and or rearrange the space to ensure adequate space is maintained. Barriers are not required as long as physical distancing can be maintained.
Following general safe food handling practices and performing frequent and thorough hand washing are effective ways to prevent the spread of food borne illnesses and viruses such as COVID-19. In addition to safe food handling practices and hand washing:
- Do NOT go to work if you are feeling sick
- Increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing of the delivery vehicle
- Note that glove use is not necessary and does not replace proper hand hygiene
- Be sure to maintain the required 2 metre physical distance between yourself and others if waiting in line to pick up takeout food for a delivery
- Avoid close contact with customers during the delivery process by arranging for prepayment on the phone or online
- If possible, make arrangements to drop off the food delivery at the home’s entrance instead of having direct interaction with the person receiving the delivery.
Employers are legally obligated by the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate all employees to the point of undue hardship. If an employee discloses a medical condition that may make him/her vulnerable to COVID-19, we recommend that the employer examines the task to assess risks of exposure while executing the activity. The Public Health Agency of Canada has created a list of vulnerable populations at risk of COVID-19. If you find that the risk of exposure is high, consider way to reduce it by modifying tasks and implementing appropriate policies, plans and procedures to protect all employees. When creating a risk mitigation plan, should follow the health and safety hierarchy of control. It is important for employers to actively engage with their employees to discuss strategies to reduce their risk exposure, as they may able to recommend practical solutions.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission identifies the type of information that accommodation seekers may generally be expected to provide to support an accommodation includes:
- that the person has a disability
- the limitations or needs associated with the disability
- whether the person can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job, of being a tenant, or of being a service user, with or without accommodation
- the type of accommodation(s) that may be needed to allow the person to fulfill the essential duties or requirements of the job
- in employment, regular updates about when the person expects to come back to work, if they are on leave.
- The employer should work with the employee with COVID-19 to identify if others may have been exposed at the workplace while the person was contagious. Find out more.
- The employer notifies employees, who were considered to have been close contacts, to self-isolate, and instruct lower risk contacts to self-monitor for 14 days from their last exposure to the case. This should be done while maintaining confidentiality of all affected employees.
- If a person with COVID-19 discloses illness to the employer, but others at the workplace have not been exposed (e.g. staff was not present while contagious), then further contact tracing would not be needed at the workplace.
- WECHU obtains consent from the employee before disclosing personal health information to the employer.
- WECHU will request a list of the names and contact information of staff and, if applicable, patrons/clients, who may have been exposed.
- The WECHU will use this information to notify and provide instructions for close contacts to self-isolate or self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Personal information collected for COVID-19 contract tracing may only be used for that purpose. Employers should only keep records for 30 days and then shred.
- A public notification is generally not required unless persons who may have been exposed while at the workplace cannot be identified or contacted in a timely manner.
A non-essential visitor is defined as a visitor that is not necessary for the functioning of a workplace, a first responder to life threatening events, or others necessary to maintain essential societal functions.
Information on whether or not non-essential visitors should be permitted can be found under ‘General Public Health Measures’ on our Fact Sheets for Specific Businesses and Organizations page.
A close contact is defined as an individual who was exposed to either a probable case of COVID-19 or a person who tested positive for COVID-19, without the appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (i.e., face coverings or eye protection).
In general, someone may be considered a close contact (i.e., higher risk contact) if:
- They were less than 2 metres (6 feet) away from the person for 15 minutes or longer
- They live with or provide care for them in the same home
- They had direct physical contact with the person, such as a hug or handshake
- They had multiple close encounters with them, over a 24-hour period, even each interaction was less than 15 minutes
- They socialized or had lunch or a drink with a co-worker at the same table sitting less than two metres (6 feet) apart
- They shared a drink with a co-worker from the same glass or bottle
- They work in close proximity to the person (e.g., assembly line)
- They had direct contact (e.g., talking in close proximity without face covering) with the person while they coughed or sneezed
Those identified as a close contact must:
- Self-isolate immediately and schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 test.
- Self-isolate for 14 days from their last contact with the positive person, even if they have no symptoms or have tested negative. After 14 days, if they have been symptom-free for 24 hours, they can stop isolating.
- Complete the COVID-19 self-assessment or call their healthcare provider, if symptoms develop, and contact a local COVID-19 Assessment Centre if testing is recommended.
- Make a list of their close contacts from 14 days prior to finding out they are a close contact to assist with contact tracing if they test positive.
- Notify close contacts that they are a close contact of a positive case and ask them to monitor for symptoms for 14 days after their last contact with the infectious person.
- The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit attempts to follow-up with all close contacts, however the current priority is for individuals who test positive.
- For medical or health advice, call a health care provider or Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000.
- If someone is having difficulty breathing or experiencing other severe symptoms, call 911 immediately. Tell them about any symptoms or possible exposure.
For a more detailed list of high-risk exposures or how to determine if someone was a close contact, visit WECHU’s ‘Have COVID-19 or have been exposed?’ page or the Ministry of Health’s Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario guidance.
In general, someone is considered a lower risk contact (i.e., NOT considered a close contact) if:
- They maintained a distance of 2 metres (6 feet)
- They were briefly in the same room but kept your distance
- They passed a person quickly in a hall or other common area
- They greeted someone while keeping your distance
- They had brief close contact while wearing a mask and/or with a barrier in place
- They were wearing a surgical/procedure mask and eye protection for the entire duration of the potential exposure (e.g., in healthcare settings)
- They attended the same meting but did not have any direct contact
- You and the person work the same shift but in a different area or separated by a barrier
- You made a delivery to someone who was self isolating but had no direct contact with them
- Lower risk contacts should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days from the last day they may have had a ‘low-risk exposure’ to the person with COVID-19 while they were contagious. If symptoms develop, they should immediately self-isolate, complete the online self-assessment, and follow next steps.
For a more detailed list of low risk exposures, visit WECHU’s ‘Have COVID-19 or have been exposed?’ page or the Ministry of Health’s Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario guidance.
The Ministry of Labour has instituted a new regulation for infectious disease emergency leave – specifically for employee leaves resulting from COVID-19 related issues https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/infectious-disease-emergency-leave. Employers can require employees to provide proof of entitlement to a leave, but they cannot require an employee to provide a certificate from a physician or nurse as evidence, as outlined below:
Proof of entitlement
An employer may require an employee to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances that the employee is eligible for infectious disease emergency leave but employers cannot require an employee to provide a certificate from a physician or nurse as evidence. Employers are not prohibited under the ESA from requiring medical notes in the context of issues such as return-to-work situations or for accommodation purposes.
What is considered reasonable in the circumstances will depend on all the facts of the situation, such as:
- the duration of the leave
- whether there is a pattern of absences
- whether any evidence is available and the cost of the evidence.
If it is reasonable in the circumstances, evidence may take many forms, such as a:
- travel documentation showing that the employee had travelled to a country for which quarantine or isolation is being advised
- a copy of the information issued to the public by a public health official advising of quarantine or isolation (for example, a print out, screen shot or recording of the information)
- a copy of an order to isolate that was issued to the employee under s. 22 or s. 35 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act
- a note from an employee's day care provider indicating that the childcare centre was closed because of a designated infectious disease
Employers can only require the evidence at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances. What is considered reasonable in the circumstances will depend on all of the facts of the situation.
For example, if an employee is in isolation or in quarantine, it will not be reasonable to require an employee to provide the evidence during the quarantine or isolation period, if the employee would have to leave home to obtain the evidence. However, if the employee has electronic evidence that can be sent from home, it may be reasonable to require the employee to send it during the isolation or quarantine period.
Public Health Ontario advises that most personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed for single use. If reuse is considered, it should not occur without adequate disinfection processes.
Please speak to your employer or health and safety representative. If you have concerns, please follow up with the Ministry of Labour.
Regardless of the settings, we recommend that employees take necessary measures to protect themselves against COVID-19 as directed by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. Practicing physical distancing, ensure proper hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette and appropriate use of PPE have proven to be effective in protecting against COVID-19. Here are some useful suggestions to consider;
- Limit the number of employees who can access the common area at a time to ensure that those using it can maintain physical distancing from each other. This can be done by staggering shifts and breaks, limiting the number of chairs and tables occupying the space and pre-marking the spacing to ensure at least 2 m of separation
- Ensure that the area; including high touch surfaces, is regularly cleaned using approved disinfectants
- Ensure that handwashing facilities and supplies, facial tissues, lined disposal bins, and cleaning and disinfecting supplies are readily available in common areas
- Remove objects that cannot easily be cleaned from the area like newspaper, magazines, fabrics and furniture.
Employers are advised to develop and implement policies around who can be allowed entry to the workplace. These policies should be communicated to workers, sales representatives, consultants and customers before resumption so everyone understands the expectations prior to attending.
Workplaces must screen any workers or essential visitors entering the work environment. See the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces for more information. Some businesses or organizations must screen patrons. See our Fact Sheets for Specific Businesses and Organization page to learn more, including screening and signage advice for specific sectors. Everyone should be instructed to stay home if they are sick.
Employees should self-monitor if:
- They have recently returned from travel outside of Canada for essential work purposes,
- Have no symptoms but may have been exposed to COVID-19 within the last 14 days,
- Are in close contact with older adults or medically vulnerable people, or
- Have been told to self-monitor by public health.
Learn how to self-monitor. Employees are still able to attend work while monitoring for symptoms.
Employees should self-isolate if:
- They have returned from travel outside of Canada, unrelated to essential travel for work,
- Been diagnosed with COVID-19,
- Are waiting for test results for COVID-19,
- Have symptoms of COVID-19,
- Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or
- Have been told to self-isolate by public health.
Learn how to self-isolate. Employees should not attend work if they are required to self-isolate.
Employers can obtain current information about COVID-19 around Windsor-Essex County by visiting the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit website and following us on Facebook. Alternatively, you may also consider visiting the Public Health Ontario and Public Health Agency of Canada websites.
For workplace specific guidance, please visit WECHU’s Fact Sheets for Specific Businesses and Organizations page.
The province has an information line called ‘Stop the Spread’ that businesses can call with questions at 1-888-444-3659. This number is available 7 days a week.
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