Employer Considerations for a Safe Return to Work Post COVID-19
Now that provincial governments in Canada are carefully allowing for the reopening of doors to the economy, it’s an important time for employers to ensure they are making comprehensively safe plans for reopening their own workplaces.
As per Statistic Canada’s March 2020 research findings, approximately 4.7 million shifted to working from home. Some employers are finding that these new arrangements are working better than expected and are deciding if working from home will become the new normal given the obvious benefits of less overhead for employers who maintained office space as well as the elimination of a commute for employees.
This same Stats Canada reports reveals that remote work has become more prevalent with almost half (48 per cent) of respondents saying that at least 10 per cent of their workforce was working remotely as of March 31, more than double the level reported on February 1 (24 per cent).
While many employers allowed for working from home since the pandemic warranted such action, work from home arrangements are not possible for everyone and may not be supported, long-term.
While some employers will adopt the new normal as working from home, other employers are actively considering what they need to do when reopening their physical workspaces. There are some specific duties and accommodations that need to be addressed for employees.
Reopening workspaces to your employees? Consider the following when making your plans:
One. Have a rational and documented plan in place. Doing so will ensure a smoother and more effective return to work transition. Ensure you’ve included all the key stakeholders in the planning process.
Two. Update your health and safety policies and procedures.
There is an employer duty to protect the health and safety of their workers and even before the pandemic outbreak, employers were required to have preventative measures in place to ensure workers were not exposed to conditions which could be harmful to their health and safety while at work.
This provision is part of the occupational health and safety (OH&S) legislation. With a direct line of sight to COVID-19 implications, employers need to address and mitigate risks related to the pandemic.
Ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees — face masks, gloves and eye protection is addressed in the updated documentation.
Employees also need to be trained on how to use PPE correctly. This includes fit, use and how to put on and take of PPE as well as cleaning and maintenance.
As employers have the right to require the use of face masks with a return to the physical workplace, they need to consider what PPE they should provide. Canada’s Chief Medical Officer recommends that people should wear a non-medical face mask when they are unable to maintain proper physical distance from others.
What if your employee, a client or someone present in the work environment becomes ill or reports symptoms of COVID-19?
Your plan should have clearly documented procedures for addressing this scenario. It should include the following:
Procedures to isolate and transport the person home if they show symptoms in the workplace
Outlined steps to take when an employee or individual tests positive for COVID-19 (fever, cough and shortness of breath) and how to maintain employee confidentiality of health information while still being required to notify anyone exposed as well as the specific health authorities to the person infected.
Procedures for the return to workplace once the employee tests negative for COVID-19 and has completed any required self-isolation period and is symptom-free.
Three. Develop and adopt a well-documented decision matrix should an employee object to returning to the workplace. This process will identify the employer’s legal risks and ensure it complies with all legal objections that might surface. From high risk employees, child-care accommodation issues, and the fear, whether warranted or not that the workplace is unsafe, all represent real objections employers may receive from their employees as return to the workplace transitions occur. Being aware of the duty to accommodate and legal requirements by jurisdiction is critical.
Four. Review OH&S legislation regarding the composition of safety committees and frequency of meetings. Are they up to date to reflect COVID-19 workplace safety processes?
Five. Do a “walk about” and walk-through the workplace to pinpoint any conditions or tasks that could increase the risk of employee exposure to COVID-19. It’s important to factor in, on a reasoned based, government and public health guidelines as well as the employer’s duty of care to employees. Again, this should all be in alignment with the employer’s existing workplace health and safety policies — updated for the current conditions.
Six. Post your plan. Employers have a duty to post their COVID-19 return to work plan or updated health and safety policies on their website. It’s good practice and best to err on side of over-communicating rather than leaving employees confused when they might already feel nervous or fearful of their return to the office due to the risk of exposure to the virus.
We’ve included a list of back to work transition resources for employers.
We know there is a great deal to consider. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions We’re here to support you. Let’s work together and create solutions that work best for you and your organization.