Covid19. This is a powerful virus and I’m not just referring to the medical aspects of it. Covid19 is crashing the stock market, highlighting poor government responses in some countries and excellent responses in others.
Businesses have been responding in different ways: some have encouraged employees to work from home. Others have cancelled work travel and conferences with large groups of people.
All of that works well if you’re in an industry where you can do that. Of course, the fall out from the work from home movement may be that companies realize they don’t need to lease all of the office space they currently lease and commercial real estate rates may drop in the long term.
If you’re a small business and/or a business that cannot have staff work from home such as a medical practice, retail store or restaurant, these are very difficult times.
In Ontario Employers have a duty to keep their employees safe. This means the Employer must have a plan to deal with Covid19. Simple steps include providing hand sanitizer to staff, setting out a policy of when it must be used as well as detailed cleaning policies.
In our firm we wipe down all surfaces in boardrooms immediately at the end of meetings. All staff have hand sanitizers at their desk and our staff knows they have the right to physically remove themselves from people who are coughing, without having to offer an explanation. But that’s not hard in a law firm.
In the restaurant business, for example, the Employer faces the difficult problem of spending more money to protect against Covid19 while possibly taking in less money as more people avoid public spaces.
Keeping staff safe is important. Having a business that is still there once this health issue is over is also important: important to staff and business owners alike. Balancing the two can put businesses in a conflict and lead to complaints by employees to Tribunals and possibly the Court system.
We’re here to help employers navigate these difficult times: don’t make uninformed decisions on what to do or not to do in your workplace as this will cost a lot more in the long run.
Inga B. Andriessen, JD