Employer Obligations in the Time of COVID-19

With phase 3 rolling out in many municipalities, we don’t know whether we’re seeing the end of this pandemic, or whether we are on the eve of a second wave. Unfortunately, one thing that is certain is this pandemic has brought with it a great deal of uncertainty.  

Are you stressed out? Maybe you’re confused? You aren’t alone. Many employers navigating through the current COVID-19 world don’t know what their obligations are to their employees with respect to health and safety.

As the employer, you are obligated to take reasonable steps to protect your employees from risks associated to COVID-19. Reasonable steps include: (1) putting up protective barriers in the workplace; (2) providing employee’s with personal protective equipment; and (3) communicating proactively with employees.

While the first two steps appear clear enough (and if they don’t, then don’t worry we can help), employers are often unsure or uncomfortable dealing directly with their employees regarding their potential exposure to COVID-19.

Remember, you can lawfully request that your employees provide information regarding COVID-19, but this is only to the extent that it directly relates to maintaining the health and safety of employees in the workplace.

So, let’s get to what you really want to know – what questions can you ask your employees?

If you believe your employee is exhibiting symptoms in the workplace, you can and should ask the following:

  1. Are you feeling symptomatic?
  2. Have you travelled outside the province in the last 14 days?  
  3. Have you undergone COVID-19 testing? If so, what was the result of your test?
  4. Have you been in the workplace when you felt you may be potentially infected?
  5. Have you been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?

If the employee answers yes to any of these questions and is working on site, you should send them home immediately. You can require the employee to self-isolate at home for 14 days or have them confirm that they tested negative before they are permitted to return to the worksite. 

Don’t forget, COVID or not, you have an obligation to ensure that the personal information of employees, including health information, is kept confidential!

Robin K. Mann, JD, Associate Lawyer