• David K Law

Managing COVID-19: Update March 16, 2020


The Ottawa Medical Officer of Health recommends that unnecessary travel or activities be suspended, and that workplaces adopt working-from-home and “social distancing at work” to help reduce transmission of the coronavirus. This advice is consistent with general public health advice across North America. The advice is to cease any unnecessary interactions, so the question is whether you are able to pause, or significantly reduce, business activity.

For many, an open-ended shutdown may not be economically possible for an organization or its employees. Dr. Etches’ statement is not an order or a recommendation to shut offices, businesses or construction sites. It is a recommendation to take responsible, intelligent and reasonable action to reduce interpersonal conduct while we try to “flatten the curve” of transmission.

What do we do?

If you are not in a position to pause business activity, LAWatWORK continues to encourage a smart, selective approach to protecting personnel and customers. One approach is to try to determine, among your people and customers:

1. Risk Population: persons who pose a risk, and persons who may be at risk

2. General Population: everyone else. Does their work require personal proximity? Can that be changed? Can they work from home?

“The Risk Group”

With input from your team, you must identify and ask people to self-identify among your personnel, and visitors (contractors and customers) who is more likely to pose a risk. We have to gather the best information we can, and assess it fairly.

· Diagnosed with Covid-19 – certain risk

· Exposed to Covid-19 – high-probability risk

· Symptomatic but with no known exposure – possible risk

· Recently travelled to a high-risk area – possible risk

It is reasonable to ask any active employee in the “Risk Group” to share information with you, in confidence, to assess whether they pose a risk to others. At this point, it would be unreasonable for a person to rely on privacy rights to deny that information to an employer.

With clients, customers and contractors, you must pose the question to people you deal with in-person, whether they fall into “the Risk Group” categories outlined above. That may mean a polite sign on the door, or a friendly greeter. Few sensible people will resent the question, given the public health emergency. Clearly, you have the right to deny access to your premises, if people will not offer this information.

“The At-Risk Group”

These are persons in your employ who are more likely to be severely harmed by the virus because they:

· Suffer from chronic illness

· Have a compromised immune system

· Are undergoing medical treatments like chemotherapy

· Meet other medical criteria for being at risk

We must ask people to self-identify for this group, and to ask their doctors if they are in this category. Clearly, this is an exceptional situation where we have to ask people for personal information that must be kept confidential to the greatest degree possible.

People we cannot safely employ

If a “Risk Group” or “At Risk” person cannot safely attend work or work from elsewhere, temporary layoff may be necessary. Their contract, your policies, any applicable collective agreement and the law will affect how you deal with these situations..

General Population: Reducing the Possibility of Exposure

How do we reduce risk for persons who are in the general population (those presumed not to pose a risk, or be at risk)? This entails:

· Identifying activities which put people unnecessarily in close contact, and developing better practices immediately;

· Where possible, shifting work offsite (“work from home” etc.)

· Eliminating unnecessary gatherings (work, lunches, etc.) where the virus can be communicated

· Constantly communicating better practices and public health guidance to people

· Enforcing best practices vigilantly