Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a global pandemic. It’s no surprise that all types of businesses are being impacted in some shape or form, and some of you might wonder what you need to know as an employer. Here are a few things we put together to help your startup or business during this time.
1. Consider Remote Work
In light of what has happened recently, more and more employers are utilizing remote work to continue business operations, as well as ensure the safety of their employees. Putting Coronavirus aside, working from home and remote work arrangements still present unique safety challenges—and employers must ensure they are complying with workplace rules even for employees who don't work onsite. Subject to limited exceptions, employers need to remember that the Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to employees who work from home. A few tips and best practices to keep in mind while utilizing remote work at this time:
· Require that the employee create a dedicated work area at home and provide evidence (i.e. photographs) that the area has been set up according to the employer's specifications;
· Create general statements about employees’ responsibilities to ensure their work space is safe;
· Periodically follow up to ensure compliance; and
· Employers should very clearly instruct employees to immediately report any work-related illness or injury, especially when working from home.
Side note: Please reach out to us at 416-238-5527 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like us to help you set up remote work for your employees!
2. Educate Your Employees on the Coronavirus!
If remote work is not an option at the moment, it is still our collective responsibility to educate our employees on how to be cautious and spot symptoms. Please see following template below to consider sending out to your employees as soon as possible:
At [Insert Company], we care about the health and safety of our employees, so we want to ensure that everyone is educated and supported during the recent outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Should you be in the office in the next coming weeks, below is an overview of the measures we are taking to keep our community as safe as possible, as well as some helpful tips to follow...
We are now advising employees not come into the workplace for 14-days if they, or a member of their household, has recently returned from cruise ship travel or travelled to the most affected locations which include: mainland China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands and Washington State.
If you show symptoms of the virus, we will kindly ask you to self-isolate for the next 14 days. If you will be travelling, make arrangements to connect with a team member prior to your departure and before your return to the workplace, to ensure it is safe for you to return. Employees are now encouraged to avoid group gatherings of approximately 25 people or more.
How you can help:
Stay home if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath) and a/or a temperature above 100.4 F
Leave work if you develop these symptoms while at the workplace
Shield coughs and sneezes with a tissue, elbow, or shoulder (not the bare hands)
Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
If you have any questions regarding these measures, please call [Insert Number] and we will happily help you.
We appreciate your understanding.
3. Understand Your Employee's Rights
Occupational Health and Safety legislation allows employees to refuse unsafe work. This means, employers who encounter employees' who refuse to work due to the fear of contracting the COVID-19 should consider avoiding taking disciplinary actions against them. Instead, if applicable, they may consult the workplace health and safety representative or seek advice from a medical expert.
4. Remind Your Employees About Sick Leave
Sick days and sick leaves can become a proactive measure to ensure the containment of the Coronavirus. It’s important to remind your employees that if they are not feeling well or have a family member who is ill, that they are entitled to leaves of absence. Under the Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA), an employee would be entitled to three days of unpaid sick leave per calendar year. They are also entitled to take another three days of unpaid family responsibility leave each calendar year due to sickness, injuries, or other urgent health-related matters involving an employee's family member. To care for a critically ill minor child or adult, ESA allows employees to take unpaid critical illness leaves of up to 37 weeks (for minors) and 17 weeks (for adults).
5. Combat Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace
Another issue worth mentioning is racism and discrimination in the workplace. Human rights legislation prohibits discrimination and differential treatment based on race, place of origin, ancestry, and ethnicity. You do have a responsibility to create a safe, harassment-free workplace for your employees.
As an employer, some things to consider include: creating educational e-posters, ensure workplace policies on discrimination are clear, and identify someone (preferably in Human Resources) if employees feel they need to address a potential concern.
6. Beware of Privacy!
Employee's personal information, which as you might have guessed by now, includes their health information, is confidential. This information should not be disclosed to other employees.
If you would like to speak with a lawyer, schedule an initial consultation at Emerge Law. To speak with an employment lawyer in confidence, contact us at 416-238-5527 today! The content of this article is written for general information purposes only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed lawyer.