COVID-19 and What it Means for Employers
These days, you can hardly turn on the news or open your social media feed without being inundated with news about growing concerns over the Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19. In countries across the globe, health authorities have imposed temporary bans on public gatherings, international travel has been restricted, and even professional sports and Olympic trials have been put on hold or cancelled altogether.
The situation continues to evolve on a daily, and even hourly basis, and it is an employer’s responsibility to stay informed and be prepared. In this article, we will discuss what employers need to know about this virus and how they should respond to the pandemic.
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses that can cause conditions ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory infections such as SARS and MERS. At the end of 2019, a new (novel) strain of the virus was discovered in Wuhan China – this strain was later named COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a contagious virus that can be contracted through the air if you are in contact with a person who has it, or by touching surfaces that have been touched by someone who is infected. For the majority of the population, symptoms will be mild and comparable to the flu including cough, sore throat and fever. For some, however, the virus causes severe respiratory complications similar to pneumonia, which can be fatal.
How Should Employers Respond to COVID-19?
Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees and this includes taking the proper precautions to protect employees from COVID-19.
- Steps that employers can take include:
- Encouraging employees to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds.
- Providing hand sanitizer and tissues in the workplace.
- Ensuring that often- touched surfaces such as door knobs, elevator buttons and handrails are
sanitized on a regular basis.
- Communicating with employees that if they are not feeling well, they should stay home.
- Encouraging employees to avoid handshakes and physical contact.
- Consider restricting or limiting larger gatherings.
- Consider restricting or limited work-related travel until the threat has subsided.
In addition to taking the health and safety precautions that have been mentioned above, employers should also work on contingency plans to help ensure business continuity in the event that quarantine becomes necessary.
To prepare for possible quarantine, employers should:
- Develop a contingency plan – determine which business operations are essential, and how any
of these might be performed by employees who are working from home or during flexible work hours when less people are in the workplace.
- Identify a person or small team to implement the contingency plan.
- Regularly monitor updates and directives from local health authorities to ensure prompt action if necessary.
The Right to Refuse Work
Finally, it is important to employers to understand that employees have the right to refuse work under the Canada Labour Code if there is a reasonable expectation that there is a health risk. If an employee has refused work because of possible contact with COVID-19, or if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, employers should immediately contact the Labour Program at 1-800-641-4049.
At TeksMed, we are committed to providing employers with the best advice for maintaining a healthy workplace. If you require further information about protecting your employees from COVID-19 or help developing a contingency plan, contact us today.