As case numbers rise, employers and employees alike may wonder what they should do if an employee or a co-worker tests Covid-19 positive.

If An Employee is COVID-19 Positive

Obviously, an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 should not return to work until they are no longer COVID-19 positive. In Ontario, workplaces are currently required to administer the daily screening tool, which ideally catches any infected employee early.

Employers should assess the infected employee’s past actions and potential contacts. It may not be necessary to close the entire workplace, but it may make sense to close off their work area or the bathroom they used for a time and then to thoroughly disinfect the area.

Employers should consider who may have come into contact with the infected employee. These people should be informed that they may have been exposed and should self-isolate for 14 days.

If the infected employee was using the Covid-19 Alert App, which is recommended, they should ensure that they report their diagnosis to the app.

In some sectors, there may be specific government guidance. Check out the Ontario CODIV-19 Resources to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace for more details.

The Right To Refuse Unsafe Work

Employees have the following health and safety rights as they related to COVID-19:

  • know about hazards in their workplace and to be trained on how to protect themselves from harm
  • help identify and resolve workplace health and safety concerns
  • refuse unsafe work

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which include:

  • ensuring that the equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided and maintained in good condition
  • providing information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker
  • taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker

While it may be “unsafe” for a worker to work alongside someone who is COVID-19 positive, some workers – like health care workers, those employed in correctional institutions, police etc. – do not have this right to refuse “unsafe work”. Typically because their work is inherently dangerous or because it would be dangerous for them to refuse work.

The threshold for unsafe work is high – continuing to work must “endanger” the worker. Check out the Ontario Guide for more on the Right to refuse unsafe work.