Ontario Issues New COVID-19 Guidelines for Employers and Workers
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On January 30th, the World Health Organization advised that we are at an “inflexion point” of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus remains prevalent and infection common, higher levels of immunity worldwide have significantly reduced chances of the Omicron variant leading to “severe disease”.
In response to changing circumstances, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development has released updated COVID-19 guidelines for employers and workers.
a) Duty to Keep Workers Safe
The updated guidelines reiterate that an employer’s duty to keep workers safe under the Occupational Health and Safety Act includes protecting them from viral illnesses such as COVID-19. Employers must assess their workplace to ensure that their workers remain safe, informed, and comply with all relevant regulatory requirements for their industry.
Even in settings in which workers are limited in their right to refuse unsafe work, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect their workers’ health and safety.
b) Employer’s Duty to Inform Workers
Employers are expected to provide their workers, “at minimum”, with information about:
- Viral respiratory illness in general
- The importance of staying home if unwell
- The basics of infection control, such as hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette
- Signs and symptoms of typical viral respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19
- The most recent advice from public health authorities.
As of January 30th, employers should refer to the November 2022 version of the pamphlet “Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario” for guidance. Employers may also choose to put additional precautionary measures in place, based on consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative.
c) Information to Workers in Case of Infection
If a worker shows symptoms of a respiratory illness, employers should tell them to contact their health care provider or Health Connect Ontario.
Employers should inform their workers of relevant public health advice concerning self-isolation, mask wearing, and monitoring for symptoms.
Current public health guidelines call for low-risk individuals exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test to isolate until they have no fever and until symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 for gastrointestinal symptoms). These individuals are advised to mask and to avoid high-risk individuals and settings for 10 days after they test or start showing symptoms. Individuals with severe symptoms or higher risk factors are advised to isolate for longer periods.
d) Notice of Worker Illness
If a worker was exposed to a respiratory illness in the workplace or files a WSIB claim, the employer must give notice in writing within 4 days to:
- Director of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development,
- the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, and
- the worker’s union, if applicable.
The employer must, within 3 days, report any occupationally acquired illness to the WSIB.
e) Workers’ Rights and Responsibilities
Workers must use any Personal Protective Equipment required by their employer.
They must report to their employer if they believe that anyone in the workplace is exhibiting respiratory symptoms. Any workers showing symptoms should stay home.
Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe the work to be unsafe. Workers who refuse work must promptly inform their supervisor of the reasons for their refusal.
Workers who work in certain settings do not have the right to refuse unsafe work, if the risk is an inherent part of their job. For example, workers in healthcare settings, correctional institutions, and emergency services do not always have the right to refuse unsafe work.
The article in this update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This publication is copyrighted by Hunter Liberatore Law LLP and may not be photocopied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hunter Liberatore Law LLP. ©
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