Coronavirus: an important update

On January 30, we informed you of the potential workplace consequences of a possible pandemic related to the new coronavirus/COVID-19. Six weeks later, it is clear that, unfortunately, the situation has become more serious and now requires employers in all sectors to take concrete measures to limit the risk of spreading the disease within their companies. 

Here is an update on the guidelines we proposed to employers a few weeks ago, with further ideas to help them manage the situation adequately. What follows is a brief overview. There are many other issues that deserve special attention. 

Because the situation is changing so quickly, employers will need to be particularly agile at this time. For example, the recent closures of schools, daycare centres and many other public places, as announced by the Quebec government, represent an additional human resources management challenge that businesses will have to face. 

Company policy/business continuity plan 

First of all, we believe that it is now essential for all companies, regardless of size, to put in place measures or directives to ensure the health and safety of workers as well as the continuity of operations. 

One way to accomplish this is to create a committee to establish the rules and procedures to be followed in the workplace and to identify the resource persons who will be responsible for applying them. 

The following topics should be considered and included in a plan or policy: 

  • Employee communications and information: 
    • Post a notice at various locations around the business reminding employees of the symptoms related to COVID-19 and requiring them to notify you in the event that they have symptoms and not to report to work until further notice
    • Provide fast and efficient communication methods to be able to reach all your employees in the event of a sudden change in the situation
    • Take a position quickly to determine whether or not you will pay employees who are in preventive quarantine or who will remain at home due to the closure of institutions, while reminding them of what resources are available to employees affected by the illness 
  •  Quarantine procedure:
    • Public health authorities are currently planning a 14-day quarantine period. An employer may therefore require employees to work from home for that period if:
      • they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19;
      • they recently travelled outside Canada or were in contact with a person at risk or suffering from COVID-19.
    • An employer may require a medical certificate before an employee in one of the two categories above returns to work. However, given the major impact COVID-19 is likely to have on the health care system, it could prove complicated for asymptomatic employees who have been in quarantine after a trip to have the opportunity to see a doctor to obtain a return-to-work certificate. In this case, employers may consider reserving this requirement for employees who have themselves been ill or have been in contact with a sick person;
    • It should be noted that although governments encourage employers to be generous, there is no legal obligation to pay an employee in quarantine if he or she is unable to perform his or her regular duties by working remotely or from home. Group insurance or reliance on employment insurance may also be considered.
  •  Business travel outside Canada:
    • Travel outside Canada is strongly discouraged
    • Alternatives to travel (video-conferencing, conference calls, etc.) must be considered and put in place to reduce the impact of the pandemic
    • Employers can prohibit all business travel or can require pre-approval for all business travel outside Canada, within Canada and even within Quebec
    • Any business travel outside Canada must be followed by a 14-day quarantine period
  • Participation in professional events or other gatherings for personal purposes:
    • Participation  in any professional or public gathering that is not absolutely necessary is discouraged
    • Management authorization can be required before taking steps to participate in any professional event, including those with fewer than 250 attendees. 
  • Personal travel outside Canada: 
    • Travel outside Canada is strongly discouraged
    • Employees must report any personal travel outside Canada to management
    • Any personal travel outside Canada will be followed by a 14-day quarantine period
    • Employees must agree to check the situation frequently and not put their health and safety and that of their colleagues at risk
  • Positive cases of contamination:
    • Employees who have been contaminated or have been in contact with a person at risk within the last 14 days must immediately notify management and co-workers
    • Contaminated employees shall immediately withdraw from the workplace and not return until a medical certificate of fitness for duty has been obtained
    • The workplaces where contaminated employees perform their duties will be promptly disinfected
    • An assessment of the need to quarantine the co-workers of infected employees will be made 
  • Reminders regarding hygiene rules:
    • The employer shall undertake the frequent disinfection of high-traffic areas
    • Basic hygiene procedures (hand washing, coughing into the crease of the elbow, etc.) will be posted in appropriate locations
    • Disinfectant and soap dispensers will be filled frequently and regularly
    • Physical contact should be kept to a minimum 
  • Continuity of operations:
    • Appoint a team responsible for the implementation of the policy or plan
    • Determine which functions are critical to business continuity and train employees capable of performing these functions
    • Identify the employees most at risk in order to anticipate potential human resource needs
    • Provide an internal and external communication plan (employees, customers, suppliers, investors)
  • Working from home:
    • Verify the ability of the company’s IT network to support the massive deployment of secure remote work
    • If possible, ask employees to perform their duties from home 
  • Right of refusal:
    • Any employee who intends to exercise the right of refusal under the LSST (the Act respecting occupational health and safety) must notify management immediately
    • The employer shall assess the situation without delay and not impose any disciplinary action on an employee who has exercised his or her right of refusal in good faith and in a reasonable manner 
  • Disciplinary measures:
    • Any negligent behaviour with respect to obligations under company policy or the business continuity plan will be subject to disciplinary action
    • Any discriminatory behaviour will be subject to disciplinary action
    • Failure to comply with disclosure obligations (exposure to the virus, travel outside the country, contact with a person at risk or an infected person) will be subject to disciplinary action 

Naturally, these recommendations will need to be adapted to each workplace. However, by following these guidelines, employers will have every chance of minimizing the economic and human impacts that this situation is likely to generate. 

Our team is available to help you prepare an action plan that is tailored to your company and that will allow you to deal with the crisis in the best possible way. 

We will of course keep you informed of developments in this matter and encourage you to seek information from reliable sources, such as: 

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