H1N1 – The Legal Side of this Flu

Word out of the newspapers this morning is that H1N1 is now in the Greater Toronto, Hamilton & London areas of Ontario.

While you likely have a sense of what this means for you in your personal life (I suggest buying stock in antibacterial gel companies) you may not have a sense of the implication this has in your business.

Before getting into the technical legal cautions, let me suggest that you apply common sense before “getting all legal” : it is in no one’s interests to force sick people to work or to work if you are sick, thereby helping H1N1 spread.

This is not your average flu – it hits 19 – 50 year olds (gack, that includes me) hardest. We have 12 million people in Ontario. This disease will cause many to be on respirators: we only have 1200 in Ontario.

Now that I have scared you with facts, let me bore you with the legal end of this.

As an employer you cannot quarantine staff. If you send people home, you must pay them or risk a constructive dismissal law suit – the specifics of what you must pay them depend on your contract or lack thereof with the employee, the size of your business and the nature of your business. If you are not sure what these obligations are, contact either myself or Scott Young () and we’ll discuss the specifics of your situation.

As an employer, you owe a duty, not just to the sick staff, but to protect the healthy staff from getting sick – this is a legislative duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act – don’t take this duty lightly. A relatively easy way to protect everyone, or start down that path is ensure everyone has hand sanitizer at their work station and uses if after shaking hands, touching door knobs, etc. Have anti-bacterial wipes available at each work station as well and instruct staff to use them when the start, at lunch and at the end of day – let’s not talk about how many germs live on keyboards.

Regardless of the size of your business, have a plan. Ensure key people can work off site if they need to be home to get away from an outbreak or because they are ill – this can be easily accomplished using remote login software for many job functions.

We all need to ensure that this potential pandemic is as limited as possible – it effects our economy, it effects our lives – we’re here to help you do your part if you need us.

Inga B. Andriessen
Senior Lawywer