Novel Coronavirus – What Employers Should Know
January 28, 2020
With news of the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus (“Coronavirus”) making headlines internationally and two positive cases now in Toronto (one confirmed and one presumptive), risk of potential exposure may cause concern for employees and employers.
In this environment of heightened awareness, an employer must balance its legal obligation to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of employees against its obligation to provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.
Start with education
Despite two positive cases in Toronto, Public Health Ontario confirms Ontarians remain at low risk for contracting Coronavirus (see here). Only individuals who meet the following criteria may be tested for the illness:
fever and acute respiratory illness, or with pneumonia; AND
presence in Wuhan, China within 14 days prior to symptom onset.
To provide education to members of the public, the Ontario Government has launched a website with up-to-date information about Coronavirus in the province, found here. It recommends that, to prevent exposure to a range of illnesses, including coronaviruses, all individuals should practice good hygiene. This would include:
Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
Stay home when ill.
Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then immediately throw the tissue in the garbage and wash hands.
If there is no tissue, sneeze or cough into a sleeve or arm, not a hand.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
What to do if Coronavirus strikes
If an employer has reason to believe an employee who has recently travelled to Wuhan or has had close contact with someone who has the virus is showing Coronavirus-related symptoms, it should advise the employee to seek immediate medical attention. This includes the employee – 2 –
Sherrard Kuzz LLP, Employment & Labour Lawyers Novel Coronavirus: What Employers Should Know – Current as of January 28 2020 Main 416.603.0700 / 24 Hour 416.420.0738 / www.sherrardkuzz.com
calling ahead to his or her physician or public health unit/department to be directed to the appropriate emergency department or established virus centre.
An employer is not legally required to report a suspected case of Coronavirus to a local Public Health Unit. Such an obligation will fall to the medical practitioner treating the patient.
In the event an employee or a member of his or her family does contract Coronavirus, there are a number of unpaid leave entitlements under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) which may apply:
Family Medical Leave – up to 28 weeks in 52-week period where the employee is providing support to a family member suffering from a serious medical condition, who is at significant risk of death within 26 weeks
Family Caregiver Leave – up to eight weeks to care for or support a family member suffering from a serious illness
Critical Illness Leave – up to 37 weeks to provide care or support to a critically ill minor child or 17 weeks to provide care or support to a critically ill adult family member
Sick Leave – up to three days in each calendar year due to employee illness, injury or medical emergency
Declared Emergency Leave – where an employee will not be performing his or her duties as a result of an emergency declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act or other similar legislation
Although it is not certain Coronavirus would be considered a “disability” under the Ontario Human Rights Code (a “disability” is generally considered to have longer-term impact), an employer may wish to treat any confirmed case of Coronavirus as a disability and accommodate an infected employee even if the employee has exhausted his or her applicable leaves of absence under the ESA. Accommodation would include providing the employee with an extended unpaid leave if medically required.