While hope grows that we will triumph over the pandemic in the months ahead, employers and employees continue to pose essential questions. We've assembled five common concerns shared by employers and employees, and have asked WSPS experts for their insights, and identified useful resources.
Have a question that isn't answered here? WSPS is here to help. Email our duty consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-877-494-9777.
Q: I can't wear a mask at work for medical reasons. Is a face shield an acceptable alternative?
"A face shield is NOT an acceptable alternative to a mask because it doesn't offer the same level of protection. Instead, face shields complement the protection masks provide by reducing the risk of eye exposure to COVID-19."
"Keep in mind that employers are responsible for accommodating employees like you unless doing so would cause undue hardship. Face coverings are just one component of a comprehensive hazard control strategy, along with such engineering and administrative controls as barriers and physical distancing."
— Kristin Onorato, Consultant
Q: One of my employees has tested positive for COVID-19. What should I do?
"The first thing to do is initiate your isolation protocol if the employee is at work, and then contact your local public health unit for guidance. The health unit will provide directions on how to proceed, and will carry out any contact tracing that is needed. It's important to have a designated spokesperson who can speak with the health unit, as well as an up-to-date list of employee contact information."
"The health unit will advise affected employees about the length of time they should be self-isolating, depending on their level of risk. Ensure employees are aware of your sick leave policy and advise them about the federal sick leave benefit for those unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate. Implement any additional infection prevention and control measures recommended by public health, such as deep cleaning and disinfecting areas where the infected employee has come in contact with the workplace.
"You must let employees know if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, while maintaining the confidentiality of your infected employee's personal health information. Indicate only the date, time and place of exposure. If the employee acquired the infection at work, you must report this to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) within three days of receiving notification. If any employee tests positive due to workplace exposure, you must also give notice in writing within four days to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the workplace's joint health and safety committee (JHSC)/representative, and trade union."
— Janet Carr, RN, Workplace Mental Health Consultant
Q: I'm a JHSC member working from home. Is the committee still supposed to be meeting and conducting inspections?
"Yes, your JHSC must still meet. JHSCs are required to meet at least every three months. If you are unable to meet in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, you can hold virtual meetings via webinar or teleconference. As for conducting inspections, if people are working in the workplace, then the workplace must be inspected each month. When conducting your inspections, watch out for tunnel vision. COVID-19 rightly deserves our attention, but so do other hazards, such as lock-out/tagout, machine guarding, and confined space."
— Pamela Patry, Account Manager
Are we required to actively screen people?
"Under the state of emergency declared by the province on January 12, employers must actively screen anyone entering the workplace - employees and visitors." Briefly, screening involves:
- asking people questions set out in the province's mandatory COVID-19 screening tool for workplaces, and
- reviewing the answers to determine whether the person may enter the workplace. Retain visitor details for contact tracing purposes. WSPS' Post-Pandemic Business Playbook has more information on what's involved.
"Once the province lifts the state of emergency, the requirement to conduct active screening will depend on the zone in which your business is located. Find your zone by checking the website of your local public health unit. Under the state of emergency, we're all in the grey zone (i.e. lockdown). More information on the zones and their control measures appears in the province's COVID-19 Response Framework."
— Kristin Onorato, Consultant
Q: I don't think my employer is following physical distancing requirements. What should I do?
"Report your concern to your supervisor or employer verbally or in an email. This is your role under the Occupational Health and Safety Act's internal responsibility system (IRS). Your supervisor or employer's role, in turn, is to address your concerns in a timely manner. Because physical distancing is an important part of COVID-19 control protocols, expect a quick resolution."
"If your supervisor fails to take action, you can bring the matter up with a worker member of your JHSC
or health and safety representative. Their job is to monitor the effectiveness of the IRS
, not take direct action to resolve your concern. However, they can bring your concern to the employer. If it's still not resolved, your last options are filing a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development or exercising the right to refuse."
— Jack Minacs, Senior Account Manager