COVID-19: A Guide for the Employers

By Eliab Taïrou, from our Labour and Employment Law Practice Group

March 11, 2020 — According to the WHO, 109,577 cases of COVID-19 coronavirus disease have been confirmed worldwide, including 3,809 deaths, as of March 9, 2020. In the last 24 hours as of March 9, these figures include 3,993 new cases and 225 deaths. In Canada, there have been 77 confirmed cases according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The Agency is maintaining its assessment of a low risk to the Canadian population at this time, while noting that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of more severe outcomes.

This situation requires a large-scale effort, and as such, any employer would do well to be over-prepared rather than ignore the impact for its employees, its business and the general population.

This checklist will help guide employers in managing the workplace relating to the risks associated with this situation, while maintaining the company’s productivity.

Information and Prevention

In order to fulfill its obligation to undertake appropriate measures to provide a healthy and safe workplace, the employer will be well advised to inform its employees about the nature of COVID-19, its mode of transmission as well as the current situation, by referring itself and its employees to official sources of information such as the WHO, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Institut national de santé publique du Québec.

As part of prevention, the employer may take the following steps:

  • Ask employees to wash their hands regularly and to adopt appropriate hygienic behaviours;
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home and to consult a physician;
  • Encourage employees to notify the appropriate resource person of any medical conditions or situations (such as recent or upcoming travel) that put them at greater risk;
  • Provide antiseptic products and additional protective equipment as required.

Work Reorganization

Sometimes described as the company’s most valuable management tool, the employer must ensure that it has enacted an updated and adaptable risk management and business continuity plan. This plan should outline risk assessments, the company’s priority activities and the roles of each individual, while enabling good communication between the key players.

In the context of the risk posed by COVID-19, the employer should assess the possibility of using telework as much as possible, bearing in mind that, in addition to contacts between work colleagues, the use of public transport can also be a source of risk. In this way, the employer will have to review its policy to this effect or develop one without delay.

Leaves of Absence

As part of its measures taken to encourage employees who are sick or who have been in contact with a sick family member to stay home, the employer must review its policy on leaves of absence, particularly due to illness. Failing that, the employer must ensure that it is aware of the leaves of absence provided for in the Act respecting labour standards, which was amended less than two years ago.

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Other issues could also concern the employer, such as the right to refuse work in matters of occupational health and safety under the law, the possibility of discrimination based on ethnic origin or illness constituting a handicap, privacy issues and the duty to accommodate. To this effect, our Labour and Employment Law team remains available to answer your questions and to guide you through the evolution of the situation.

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