Coronavirus: What Employers Need to Know
With the number of confirmed cases climbing exponentially, it is safe to say that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic isn’t going to go away any time soon – and neither are its impacts on workplaces and the Canadian economy.
With the Ontario Government declaring a state of emergency, businesses of every kind have been forced to temporarily close their doors. There is tremendous uncertainty facing employers as they prepare, manage and respond to workplace challenges that are arising with the spread of the virus. At times like this, with the situation in constant flux, employers should by now have a plan B… and C and D and probably E too.
As an employer in such unstable times, you likely have a lot on your mind and on your plate. Among the million things going through your head, you’re probably concerned about your obligations to your employees during this time of mounting economic stress.
First and foremost, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. Employees have the right to refuse work when their workplace conditions are “likely to endanger” their personal health and safety. An employee’s risk of contracting the virus as a result of their employment duties will vary greatly depending on a number of factors but may be reason enough to at a minimum request a leave of absence or alternate working arrangements.
A key way to promote the health and safety of your employees throughout the current pandemic is to have policies and procedures in place. At a minimum, this would include setting up hand sanitizers throughout your premises; distributing information to employees about how your company is addressing the increasing hazards of social contact; ensuring that employees who demonstrate symptoms of illness are sent home; and putting extra cleaning procedures in place.
Now is also a good time to make sure your employees understand their leave and benefit entitlements. All employees have the right to take various job-protected unpaid leaves of absence to quarantine themselves, support a sick relative or care for an ill child.
Flexibility and Accommodations
During these stressful times, employers should be especially mindful of take their employee’s concerns seriously and offering grace, understanding and flexibility when navigating this ongoing crisis. This may mean different things to different employees.
For example, the closure of schools may mean you have to accommodate (to the point of undue hardship) employees who have childcare duties by allowing them to work from home or by altering their schedule so that they can care for their children.
For an employee who has returned from abroad and is required to self-quarantine, again, you should accommodate them by allowing them to work from home, use additional vacation time if they have it, or take a leave of absense.
With increasing emphasis on the importance of social distancing to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections, creating flexibility for your employees to work from home can be your most effective policy for keeping your employees – and entire community – safe, healthy and productive.
In this together
The coronavirus pandemic has already brought tremendous hardship to employers and employees alike. At times like this, it can be difficult for employers to know their rights and obligations and how to best manage what may be an emerging crisis for their business. The employment law experts at KCY at LAW can answer your questions about, and advise you on, the best course of action for your particular business needs, call us at 905-639-0999 or click here to book your consultation.