COVID-19 in the Workplace

Employers and employees have a role to play to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. Below are recommendations and information that apply to all workplaces and businesses, except health care settings, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure that staff, customers and visitors to your workplace stay safe.

The self-isolation recommendations are different for those who have COVID-19 and the people they have been in contact with (high-risk contacts).

Someone in your workplace has COVID-19

Niagara Region Public Health is notified of every individual in Niagara who has tested positive for COVID-19. These individuals are contacted by Public Health.

If you have been notified that an employee has received a positive test result, you can work with the employee to ensure steps are in place to protect other employees, customers or visitors to the workplace.

If you have been notified that an employee has tested positive and / or you're concerned that employees may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, call the Public Health Info-Line at 905-688-8248, press 7 or email your workplace questions to our public health inspectors.

Reducing transmission in the workplace

If you become aware that an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or if any employee has COVID-19 symptoms while at work, send them home immediately and:

  • Tell anyone who is positive to review recommendations for a positive COVID-19 case
  • Document the work they were doing, and what shifts and dates they worked 48 hours before they had symptoms or were tested
  • Identify which employees are a high-risk contact of the positive case

High-risk close contacts of someone who is COVID-19 positive

Generally, a high-risk exposure is defined as being within two metres of the infectious person for 15 minutes or more, or having direct physical contact with them. A contact may still be high-risk even with less than 15 minutes of close contact, or being further than two metres away, if:

  • The contact lives with the case
  • There is exposure to the case's bodily fluids
  • The interaction occurs indoors in a small, closed or poorly ventilated area
  • The infectious person coughs or sneezes during the interaction
  • Singing, loud talking, eating together or shouting is occurring
  • The interaction occurs during vigorous physical activity
  • There are many repeated shorter contacts while the person is infectious
  • Other considerations as directed by Public Health. However, due to capacity limitations, not all high-risk contacts can be followed up directly.

While offering some protection, non-medical masks are usually not enough to render an exposure as lower risk. Only medical masks and other appropriate personal protective equipment worn by an experienced and trained health care provider might provide sufficient protection to no longer be high-risk.

If in doubt, it's best to self-isolate to protect your household, family, friends and community. Due to capacity limitations, Public Health may not be able to follow-up directly with all contacts. However, Public Health will follow-up with all cases and will provide further direction about contacts to them.

Self-isolation

All high-risk contacts are to self-isolate immediately and for a duration of 14 days from their last contact to the case. Tell high-risk contacts to review recommendations for close contact of a COVID-19 case.

Niagara Region Public Health recommends testing on day 10 for high risk exposures. Instruct your employees to immediately book an appointment online for testing.

Review your sick leave policies or establish new non-punitive sick leave polices. Communicate with employees to make sure that those with symptoms or sick household contacts stay home and self-isolate.

Employees who are not high-risk contacts

If an individual isn't identified as a high-risk contact, but they were working on the premise when an infectious person was present, they can continue to work, but should self-monitor.

If symptoms develop at any time, they should immediately self-isolate and book an appointment online for testing.

It's important to screen employees for symptoms and high-risk exposures every day that they come to work.

Contact tracing in the workplace

For each COVID-19 positive individual in Niagara, Public Health will:

  • Ensure they're self-isolating to prevent any further spread of the virus
  • Work with them to identify people who may be a close contact and potentially exposed to COVID-19 while they were contagious. This includes colleagues and customers they may have interacted with in the workplace.

Due to capacity limitations, Public Health cannot follow-up directly with all contacts. We work with cases and their workplaces to complete contact tracing. If you identify a positive employee, do not delay identification of contacts and self-isolation.

Protecting employee confidentiality

Personal information collected for COVID-19 contact tracing can only be used for this purpose, unless an individual provides their consent.

Ensure you maintain privacy and confidentiality of employees' and patrons' personal health information at all times. Avoid the use of personal identifiers if asked to notify others that a person who was in the workplace, floor, or area was infected or exposed to COVID-19.

Follow your organizational policies and work with your occupational health and safety department (if you have one) to determine how your organization will handle a positive case. In general, Niagara Region Public Health will only communicate to the public, such as social media, letter, email or e-blast, when there is risk of COVID-19 and there are no other options to notify these contacts.

How to support your employees during a pandemic

Ensure you have policies that support employees who need to be absent from work due to illness or being a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19.

If an employee discloses to you that they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or have been exposed to a person with COVID-19, confirm that they are self-isolating.

Employees shouldn't return to work until after the required self-isolation period, which will be determined by the Public Health professional monitoring their case.

Public Health only connects with workplaces when it has been determined that individuals within the workplace were exposed and / or if Public Health has advice regarding other measures that the workplace or staff may need to take to reduce the risk of transmission.

If you were advised that one of your employees has tested positive due to an exposure at the workplace, report to the Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Niagara Region Public Health does not recommend that employers require testing or doctor's notes for return to work. In fact, some individuals will continue to test positive for COVID-19 for many months, long after they're no longer contagious.

Implement public health measures

  • Have a COVID-19 workplace safety plan in place to help make the workplace safer for everyone
  • Follow public health guidance on preventive measures that may be recommended for your workplace or business
  • Keep a list of names and contact information for those who attended in-person business meetings or events for at least 30 days. This can be used to notify and provide instructions for close contacts.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that may have been touched by the sick employee as soon as possible. Follow public health advice for enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures to reduce the risk of spread.
  • Know that COVID-19 is in our community. It's important that employees / employers always protect themselves and others by following these steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 outbreak in a workplace

An outbreak of COVID-19 may be identified by Niagara Region Public Health. The level of public health involvement in workplace outbreaks, beyond case and contact management, will depend on a number of factors.

Public Health will work with employers during an outbreak to support them with infection prevention and control practices in the workplace, reducing the transmission risk in the workplace and into the community, and assist by providing resources to the workplace / employer to address the outbreak.

Reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace

Under Section 52 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace must be reported to Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

If the employer is advised that one of their workers has tested positive for COVID-19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the employer must give notice in writing within four days to the:

The employer also must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board within three days of receiving notification of the illness. The employer doesn't need to determine where a case was acquired. If it's reported to the employer as an occupational illness, the employer must report the case.

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