During the global Covid-19 pandemic, employers must carefully manage their responsibilities for workplace health and safety.
In Ontario, employers are required to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act to protect their workers from a hazardous workplace. A hazardous workplace may include a situation where the physical condition of the workplace is likely to endanger the employee. As the economy reopens, employers must also follow all regulations and directives from Public Health Ontario. Employers will be required to implement new policies to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the workplace. There are currently a number of sector specific guidelines available on the Government of Ontario website specifically with respect to Covid-19.
If these guidelines are not followed, there is a risk that the employer could be found liable for employee injury, illness or death.
In addition, as the economy reopens, employers may also have to contend with employees who refuse to return to work for concerns about contracting Covid-19, or issues with lack of child care or caring for a loved one who is ill with the virus. These situations need to be taken seriously by the employer. If, for example, the employee feels that the workplace is unsafe, he or she may report the employer to the Ministry of Labour. In the case of someone requiring accommodations because of child care or care for a loved one, the employer is responsible to provide accommodations, except if the accommodations fall short of causing the employer undue hardship.
On the other hand, if an employee refuses to report to work and there are no good reasons for doing so, this may result in the employee effectively resigning from the job. Determining whether or not the employee is acting reasonably will require a review of the employer’s workplace policies and whether these have been implemented in accordance with the Act and the directives from Public Health Ontario.
These issues can be tricky to navigate. Vice & Hunter LLP is here to provide advice and opinions regarding the employer’s responsibilities during these difficult times. If you have questions or concerns that you are unsure how to navigate, please contact us for assistance.
Jean-Francois Lalonde and Jennifer Gravel Vanasse
To reach Jean-Francois Lalonde, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613.232.5773 x 246.
To reach Jennifer Gravel Vanasse, email email@example.com or call 613.232.5773 x 236.