Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
Many Ontario employers have been putting protocols in place over the past several months, to make sure the workplace is as safe as possible for their staff, clients and other visitors. While some have implemented mandatory mask requirements or temperature checks, others have asked employees to self-monitor and avoid coming into work if they experience symptoms or come into contact with an infected person.
However, with most of the province at stage 3, allowing nearly all businesses to open with necessary adaptations to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. In order to ensure these workplaces remain as safe as possible for employees and guests, the province has set out specific guidelines that took effect on September 26th under Ontario Regulation 364/20. These new guidelines place the onus on Ontario employers to implement specific screening procedures in the workplace. Below, we will outline the new responsibilities on employers.
Mandatory Screening Questions
The questions set out in the government-provided Screening Tool include a list of potential symptoms to check for, as well as inquiries about recent behaviours and contacts. Employers should ask each person if they have any of the following new or worsening symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat or trouble swallowing
- Runny nose or congestion
- Decreased ability to smell or taste
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
- Exhaustion, body pain or an overall feeling of being unwell
Each person should also be asked whether they have travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days, or if they’ve come into contact with a known or probable case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
Who is Subject to the Screening Requirements?
The screening procedures outlined in the tool are intended to be used with staff, employees adn essential visitors, but do not need to be applied to customers.
Staff/Employees are defined as including students, contractors, volunteers, or any other person conducting business or related activities on the premises.
Essential visitors include any person providing a service in a workplace, other than staff or patrons of the business. This may include delivery employees, maintenance staff or contractors.
The procedures notably do not apply to customers, so establishments such as grocery stores, retail environments are not required to screen individual customers, which would be onerous and time-consuming.
Carrying Out the Screening Protocols
All people subject to the screening procedures should be questioned prior to entering the workplace. This may require an employer to set up a kiosk or station at the entrance, or just outside. Of course, this will necessitate lineups at establishments with a large number of employees. To manage this, employers may wish to stagger start times to avoid long lines, particularly in cold or inclement weather.
If anyone fails to pass the screening, they should be advised they will not be permitted to enter the workplace. In addition, they should be asked to self-isolate and to contact their local public health authority for further instruction.
While not mandated, employers should keep records of each screening and result in case they are ever asked to demonstrate compliance with the new guidelines in the event of an outbreak.
Additional Resources for Employers
In addition to the screening tool, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has also provided a number of resources for employers to help prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in the workplace. The resources include tips, posters and other publications to assist with employee awareness, and guidance in locating Personal Protective Equipment. The tools also include industry-specific tips and guidelines for sectors such as retail, restaurants, manufacturing and health care.
With the rules around COVID-19 protocols changing regularly, it is important for employers to stay up to date on their obligations. If you have questions about your responsibilities as an employer, contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We will review your practices and help you understand your role in keeping staff and clients safe. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.