Coronavirus – Answers to Employers’ Frequently Asked Questions

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak is an evolving situation affecting people and organizations around the world. OSG strives to do everything we can to help protect the health and safety of our clients, partners, and workers. Below are answers to the questions Canadian employers may be faced with surrounding the coronavirus. 

How can I protect the health and safety of my workers amidst the coronavirus outbreak?

We’ve written an entire article on this topic. Read Coronavirus: What Canadian Employers Need To Know

In short, the most important steps employers can take are to:

  • Keep employees informed about signs and symptoms of the coronavirus, prevention techniques such as handwashing, who to contact if they are sick, and any changes to your sick leave or work from home policies
  • Encourage employees who are exhibiting coronavirus symptoms to stay home until they feel well and are no longer exhibiting symptoms
  • Educate employees about recommended hygiene practices, including proper hand-washing procedure and proper protocols to follow if coughing or sneezing
  • Perform routine workplace cleaning, including regular sanitization of frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, food surfaces, phones, and keyboards
  • Monitor the Government of Canada’s Travel Advisories and implement travel restrictions if necessary
  • Prepare an Emergency Response Plan (ERP)
  • Monitor reputable sources for developments and best practices that may impact your workplace’s response

What should I do if an employee needs to take time off due to the coronavirus?

You should have a policy that clearly communicates paid and unpaid sick leave. You must comply with regulations in your jurisdiction surrounding employee compensation and protected leaves, including sick leave. 

In Ontario, employees are entitled to up to three full days of job-protected unpaid sick leave every calendar year, whether they are employed on a full or part-time basis.

Given the serious nature of the coronavirus, you may consider making exceptions to your policies in order to encourage sick employees to stay home. This would prevent inadvertently penalizing employees who are following the advice of health agencies and medical professionals by staying home. It would also discourage those with symptoms from returning to work too soon, potentially infecting others. 

Do I have to pay employees who take days off because they are being quarantined?

Employers are required to comply with minimum compensation and pertinent regulations surrounding sick days and protected leaves in their jurisdiction. In addition, employers must uphold terms of the employment contract, which may provide a greater right or benefit than mandated. 

If your worker is legally or contractually entitled to be paid for the days they are quarantined, they must be paid. If they have surpassed their mandated allotment and any additional leave days provided in their employment contract, you are not legally required to pay for additional days off. However, you may consider making exceptions in instances related to the coronavirus.

At times, individuals may be quarantined because they were in proximity to someone with a confirmed case of the coronavirus even though they themselves do not exhibit any symptoms. In this instance, you may wish to consider implementing a working from home policy if one does not exist.

One of my workers is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. Can I send them home?

Workers have a right to a safe and healthy workplace. Employers are within their rights to ask a worker to stay home if the employee has:

  • Symptoms such as high fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing
  • Recently travelled to an impacted area
  • Lives with someone who has been exposed to the virus

When making decisions about sending workers home, employers must:

  • Ensure that they are not committing human rights violations by basing decisions on improper discrimination (ex. Asking workers to stay home based on their ethnic origin instead of travel history)
  • Rely on objective facts and rely on advice from public health agencies

As noted above, employers should consider making work from home options available and/or sick leave policy exceptions (in regards to paid and unpaid time off) in instances related to COVID-19.

An employee recently travelled to an area that is now under Travel Advisory, should I require them to stay home, even if they have not tested positive for the coronavirus and are not exhibiting symptoms?

In general, employers can ask workers who are sick to stay home. Bear in mind the most current advice from public health officials and labour agencies. The Government of Ontario is advising travellers:

  • who have returned from areas under a health advisory for the coronavirus to monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus for 14 days after leaving the affected areas
  • who have returned from Hubei province, including Wuhan City, to stay at home and avoid close contact with others, for a total of 14 days from the date they left Hubei province

Based on the above advisements, employers should reasonably be able to:

  • Ask employees who have travelled to an area under health advisory and are presenting symptoms to stay home until cleared by a medical professional. Employers should consider their time-off policies and the burden this may place on the worker
  • Ask employees who have recently returned from the Hubei province to stay home until cleared by a medical professional, regardless of whether they are presenting symptoms. Employers should consider allowing the employee to work from home, if possible

Employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect their workers. Therefore, the individual circumstances regarding the employee in question and the safety of workers must be considered. Employers should rely on advice from authorities such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and their provincial labour ministry when making decisions.  Due to the rapidly evolving nature of the coronavirus outbreak, impacted areas and recommendations may change frequently. 

Disclaimer: The content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.