What Happens if an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19?
It is unfortunately the case that an employee may fall ill to COVID-19, despite an employer’s best efforts to implement all reasonable prevention measures in the workplace to protect their workforce. The emergence of contagious COVID-19 variants makes the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace much higher than the first wave last year. We at HRPAR recognize that a major contributing factor to an employer’s fear about having an employee contract COVID-19 is not having the knowledge of what to do, what to expect, or how to act once an employee confirms they have COVID-19.
The below is intended to be a brief overview of the process that typically takes place once an employee contracts COVID-19 and what you may have to do. However, we strongly advise you contact HRPAR today to seek our assistance in developing and implementing a comprehensive safety plan that will deal with COVID-19 prevention and compliance specific to your industry.
Step 1: What if an Employee Tests Positive?
Employers must create a set of internal processes and procedures for dealing with COVID-19, not just in terms of the prevention measures to be put in place, but information on what employees should do if they test positive for COVID-19.
Self-isolation rules changed in February 2021. Employees tested positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate for a period of at least 10 days and should not be permitted back to work until they are 24 hours symptom free. The previous self-isolation period was 14 days for a positive case. The employer should be calm and supportive in their interactions with the ill employee. You should ask the employee for their assistance in providing details of the areas of the workplace they had entered in the 48 hours before symptom onset and the other employees they had contact with during this time. It is important to obtain this information as Public Health Agencies will interview the employee to determine who has been in close contact with them. Should Public Health contact your workplace, you will then be informed and will be in a better position to cooperate with Public Health.
Step 2: The Involvement of Public Health Agencies
Public Health Agencies will only disclose a positive case to an employer if it is needed to limit the exposure risk of COVID-19 to others in the workplace. They will focus on retrieving further information from the employer based on what they have learned from their interview with the ill employee. They will be especially concerned with confirming the individuals the ill employee may have come into close contact with at work.
Close contact means being within 2 metres of an infected individual for an uninterrupted period of 10 to 15 minutes or more without the necessary PPE; being a face mask and eye protection. You must assist Public Health with any information you may have as it relates to employees who have had close contact with the ill employee.
Public Health may also consult with the employer regarding other measures that may need to be taken by the employer to reduce the risk of transmission. Any recommendations should be adopted as soon as is practicable.
If an employer is advised that a worker has contracted COVID-19 due to an exposure at the workplace or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the employer must notify the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development in writing within four days.
The employer must address the notice to, “Attention: Director” and then mail or fax the notice, to the Ministry regional office closest to your workplace.
The employer must also advise the:
- workplace joint health and safety committee
- health and safety representative
- trade union, if any
Employers in Peel and Toronto Region must be aware of their obligations should multiple employees’ contract COVID-19. A Public Health Class Order for these Regions issued on April 20, 2021 creates additional reporting requirements for employers in Peel and Toronto Region. It should be noted that employers in Peel and Toronto Regions must shutdown their business if 5 or more workers test positive for COVID-19 in a 14-day period. We would strongly recommend that any employer facing this situation call our team at HRPAR for immediate guidance.
Step 3: Keeping your Workforce Informed
As soon as you learn that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, it is crucial that you quickly but calmly advise all employees that a positive COVID-19 case has taken place at the workplace. Be sure to advise employees on the steps you are taking to address the situation and let everyone know that you will be able to answer any questions they may have. Remember, you should be contacting employees who have been in close contact with the positive case but it is vital that you maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the ill employee by never revealing their identity in any of the communications you have with your staff.
Advise employees that you are taking all necessary precautions and following Public Health’s direction. Assure your employees that you will continue to make every effort to handle the situation and will be open and honest with them throughout the process.
With so much information out there on COVID-19, and with the rules and guidance evolving constantly, we at HRPAR appreciate the difficulties for employers in continuing with their business activities while keeping staff safe and complying with the law. Contact us today for assistance in navigating your business through the challenges of COVID-19.