The Gradual Reopening of Businesses and Workplaces Following the COVID-19 Crisis: Your Legal Obligations
In the context of the gradual reopening of businesses and workplaces following the COVID-19 crisis, employers and employees will likely have to deal with several challenges.
In order to properly implement a reopening plan, it is essential that employers be adequately equipped to ensure that they apply the internal measures requested by the CNESST and the Quebec Public Health Department. To facilitate this, we thought we would outline non-exhaustive list of measures to implement before the reopening of your businesses.
The employer has an obligation to ensure that risks are identified, controlled, and corrected. The employer must ensure to undertake these prevention processes while at the same time promoting the participation and collaboration of workers.
Plan to return to work
Before bringing your team back to the workplace, be sure to identify the risks of transmitting COVID-19.
- Identify places at risk of being crowded by several people: entrances, toilets, conference rooms, lunchrooms etc.
- Identify objects at risk of being used by several people: door handles, telephones, tools, keys, printers, tables etc.
- Identify places where it is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a 2-meter distance between people: narrow corridors, workstations, vehicles, elevators, etc.
- Identify the specific needs of your employees: medical conditions, living with a vulnerable person, etc.
Once the risks have been identified, the risk of contamination must be prevented.
- Rearrange the premises to encourage social distancing and respect for health measures:
• Move or seal off certain workstations, if necessary;
• Install plexiglass panels in places where people are in direct face-to-face contact;
• Provide hydroalcoholic gels, soap, gloves and masks;
• Mark boundaries on the floors to facilitate compliance with social distancing (restrict certain areas, draw arrows).
- Draft a clear protocol listing all the measures and modifications thereto that workers and visitors must abide by in the workplace and send it to all concerned. You may also require their signature to ensure that they have read it.
• Indicate the health measures to be observed in the workplace such as coughing into your elbow, washing your hands frequently and disinfecting your workstation;
• Indicate the procedures to follow in order to respect the 2-meter distance requirement in order to comply with the social distancing directives required by the Public Health Department;
• Limit the number of people who can be in the same room or vehicle in situations where the 2-meter distancing cannot be respected. In such case, wearing a mask is also recommended;
• Indicate how and when to disinfect objects handled;
• Specify how to proceed if the measures set out are not respected (for example, who to contact if the situation persists).
- Before the employees return to work, inform them of the risks to which they will be exposed in the course of their work and inform them of the measures that you have put in place to reduce such risks.
- Make sure that each employee has received adequate training to familiarize themselves with their responsibilities in applying the health protocols and ensure that they agree to them.
Once the employees have returned to work
- Encourage working from home as much as possible to avoid having too many people in the workplace;
- Opt for a gradual return of your workers. Consider bringing back part of your team at a time, or alternating employees so that there are fewer people in the workplace.
- Ensure that the employees do not show any symptoms of COVID-19. To this end, it is suggested that each employee fill out a statement every day upon their arrival at the workplace where, for example, the employee states that they:
• Washed their hands before arriving;
• Are not experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 such as cough, fever, loss of taste or smell or difficulty breathing;
• Have not been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 2 weeks;
• Have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 2 weeks;
• Have not traveled abroad in the past 2 weeks.
- Postpone or reorganize (to a virtual setting) any events involving physical gatherings.
- Prohibit social habits that conflict with social distancing measures, such as handshakes and hugs.
- Inform visitors, customers, and suppliers of the new procedures and protocols to follow in order to protect the health of your employees (wash your hands, stay in a particular space, do not touch and shake hands with your employees, manage traffic at the loading dock, stay in your truck, etc.).
If an employee has contracted COVID-19:
- Make sure that you have previously established a procedure for this eventuality.
- Follow the guidelines of the Quebec Institute of Public Health. Generally, an isolation period of at least 14 days is required after testing positive for COVID-19.1
- Make sure you are able to identify the other employees or visitors who may have come into contact with the employee who has contracted COVID-19 and proceed with sanitizing their workstation and the objects that they may have touched.
- Listen to this employee and follow up on their health.
- Be present to listen to the fears of other colleagues.
If an employee refuses to return to work:
- Check whether the reason for the refusal is protected by law.
- Pay particular attention to the fiscal aspects of the situation, either unemployment insurance or emergency benefits.
Review your policies and employee manual:
- Revise your occupational health and safety policies according to the new standards set hereinabove.
- Review your policies with respect to absences and time off related to family or medical reasons in anticipation of Covid-19-related absences.
- Create a return-to-work policy for employees who have contracted Covid-19 or who have been in contact with someone who has contracted Covid-19.
- Create a follow-up protocol for Covid-19 positive cases, to quickly inform those exposed and to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in your business.
Train and communicate:
- Hold training on the content of the new policies and amendments to existing policies upon the employees’ return.
- Train employees on the proper use of protective equipment.
- Keep a record of the training provided, its content and the participants.
- Train your supervisors, forepersons, directors, etc.
- Never tolerate any violation of the policies, procedures and guidelines relating to the health and safety of your employees.
In our opinion, 3 main themes should guide your efforts and your approach to this new reality:
1- The health and safety of your employees must take precedence over the financial considerations linked to the new measures to be taken in terms of health and safety;
2- You must maintain a balance between the health and security of everyone and the respect of the private life of each of your employees; and
3- Do not forget to consider risks related to the mental health of your employees by promoting a work environment that encourages empathy, collaboration, respect, patience and open-mindedness that allows your employees to express their fears and anxieties that may be causing them personal problems and other related issues as a result of this pandemic (working from home, family, financial insecurity, etc.).
Make sure to stay on the lookout for any updates from the government and from the Director of Quebec Public Health and be sure to share all new guidelines with your team as soon as possible.
We refer you to the CNESST Covid-19 informative package for more details and information related to each specific sector of activity 2. There, you will find very simple tools to help you enforce the new measures and respect your obligations.
If you have any questions regarding this topic or if you need help resolving a dispute, please know that we are available to look over and discuss with you the solutions at your disposal.
We wish you a safe return to work.