Employers’ New Pandemic Responsibilities
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an immense impact on individuals and companies throughout the world. Not only have our daily lives changed, so have the ways in which we operate our businesses. The recent surge in the number of cases is concerning and has given rise to employer obligations and responsibilities.
On Sept. 25, 2020, the Ontario government introduced amendments O. Reg 364/20 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to Covid-19) Act, 2020. The amendments are in response to the rising number of cases. Under the amendments, businesses are required to comply with any advice, recommendations and instructions issued by the Ministry of Health in relation to Covid-19 screening. This includes the use of a new screening tool for all employees and essential visitors.
The screening tool is to be completed by all workers or essential visitors entering a business or work environment. This encompasses all staff, including students, contractors or volunteers that conduct business. “Essential visitors” includes all individuals providing a service in the establishment who are not employees or patrons of the establishment. For example, delivery, maintenance and contract workers. Patrons or customers are not required to complete the screening tool, although it would be prudent to have them do so, where possible.
The screening tool asks the following questions:
- Do you have any new or worsening symptoms or signs of Covid-19?
- Have you travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days?
- Have you had close contact with a confirmed or probable case of Covid-19?
These questions are the minimum requirement. Employers are encouraged to supplement with additional questions, where necessary. Anyone who fails to pass the screening should be advised that they cannot enter the workplace or business and that they should self-isolate and contact their health provider.
The screening tool must be completed before or when a worker or visitor enters the workplace.
The amendments do not stipulate how long an employer or business operator must retain the Covid-19 screening records. It is prudent to be mindful of privacy concerns and keep records confidential.
It is also important to note that a new bill was introduced in the provincial legislature that would provide workers, businesses and non-profit organizations with some limits on liability against Covid-19 exposure related lawsuits. Under the bill, if an “honest effort” was made to follow public health guidelines, liability would be limited. The new law would not protect those businesses or organizations who willfully endangered others or engaged in gross negligence.
It is essential that employers and businesses have protocols and systems in place to ensure screening is conducted adequately. A Covid-19 outbreak is detrimental to any business or organization from a health and safety perspective, as well as from an economic standpoint.