The last thing any employer wants to do is start a coronavirus hot spot in their workplace…
Bringing employees back to the workplace, during and after COVID-19, means reacting to ever-changing recommendations from health officials as well as the mandates of local government.
With many parts of the country still under emergency orders, the idea of returning to work may seem far away but government leaders are hinting at a glimmer of hope to re-open the economy and get returning to work. The process will likely be nerve-racking, frustrating, and full of starts and stops for all workplace parties. Adjustments and continuous improvement should be expected.
When workplaces get back to business, and for those still operating as “essential”, employers will have to navigate a number of health and safety, legal and ethical quandaries. That’s especially true for workplaces that have any employees who tested positive for coronavirus or who experienced symptoms of the infection but were never tested.
The simplicity of getting a Doctor’s note is out the window; however, employers still have the right to tell an employee it’s too soon to return to work.
Employers need to be Cautious
Employers should have a well thought out return to work strategy and pandemic mitigation plan that ensures they are fulfilling their legal and ethical obligations. They should consider:
- Staggered start times;
- Social distancing protocols;
- Frequent and effective sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces; and
- Employee health screening for symptoms.
Is Employee Health Screening worth considering?
The most common and easiest to screening to implement is requiring all employees (don’t forget contractors, delivery persons and visitors) to submit to a touch-less temperature screening before being allowed to enter the workplace, coupled with a self-assessment health checklist for other related symptoms.
Before this pandemic, most people would have found these measures ridiculous and it could have spurred legal and human rights issues. Now, it’s recommended by health officials and generally accepted by society as a reasonable measure to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Even then, taking temperatures might not catch all infections. Some people infected with coronavirus might not express symptoms like a temperature which is why limiting the number of people in the workplace, implementing and maintaining other measures such as reduced workforce, staggered shifts, social distancing, personal protective equipment, increased sanitization, etc. may be necessary and diligent.
Liability of Employers
If an employer is concerned that checking temperatures or collecting health information may trigger civil litigation or human rights complaints, they should seek legal advice:
Norm Keith, Partner at Fasken law firm, practices labour, employment, human rights (LEHR), regulatory, environmental, anti-corruption, business crime and constitutional litigation.
Norm says “Case law indicates that when there are competing values of dignity and privacy rights and life, health, and safety of workers and the public, the latter will usually prevail. There is a strong legal argument that taking an employee’s body temperature during the COVID‑19 pandemic is a reasonable precaution, since it assists the employer in meeting their obligations under OHS and criminal law. Employers should remember that guidance from public health officials is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.” You can read Norm’s full article via this link:
Employers should consider how long they intend to implement screening protocols like temperature checks and self assessment health questionnaires, given that not all protocols will remain advisable as the pandemic subsides. That said, every employer should have a workplace-specific Pandemic Response Plan.
Be wary of Discrimination
To help avoid discrimination, employers should only collect the minimal amount of health data necessary to allow an employee to return to work. That information only be shared with other directly-affected employees and should be kept in a safe place that is not accessible to other employees.
Screening and Assessment Services
This pandemic has caused some stress and panic for businesses which is why we are doing our part to help. We have helped numerous companies to establish Pandemic Response Plans, and to help identify hazards and mitigate risk during COVID-19.
Spark Safety Solutions, provides the following screening and assessment services:
- Self-assessment screening forms / checklist
- Touch-less temperature checking guidelines
- Hazard and risk assessments
- Safe work procedures
- Personal protective equipment recommendations
- On-site staffing for screening and temperature checks
- Access to Occupational Nurses and Physicians for guidance and on-call triage
COVID-19 Information, Support and Resources – Learn more
For more information contact Wes Mazur
1-844-267-8600, ext 222