COVID-19 in the Workplace

Effective December 23, 2021, Hamilton Public Health Services paused declaring outbreaks in non-high risk workplace and community settings.

Case, contact and outbreak management, will only be supporting highest risk settings. Highest-risk settings in Hamilton include: hospitals (including complex continuing care facilities and paramedic services); and congregate living settings with medically and socially vulnerable individuals, including, but not limited to Long-Term Care, retirement homes, First Nation elder care lodges, group homes, shelters, hospices, correctional institutions, Provincial Demonstration Schools and hospital schools. . These settings will continue to be provided with infection prevention and control guidance by Hamilton Public Health Services staff and declared outbreaks will be posted on the City of Hamilton’s Status of Cases dashboard.

Employers are encouraged to review this information and adjust workplace practices to maintain a safe environment for their employees.

Hamilton Public Health Services strongly recommends local workplaces, sports teams and other non-high-risk community settings consider discontinuing operations where needed for a period of 10 days to break transmission in the setting.

Prevent & prepare for COVID-19 in the workplace

Employers have an obligation to maintain a safe work environment for their workers. To help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission there are various measures that employers can implement to protect their workers and the public.

  • Take measures to protect employees as mandated under Ontario’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Understand the hierarchy of controls and review provincial guidance and control measures.
  • Educate and train workers employees on COVID-19 workplace policies.
  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. Communicate the importance of vaccination to employees and consider creating a workplace vaccination policy.
  • Review your sick leave policies or establish new non-punitive sick leave policies. .
  • Ensure appropriate personal protective equipment is available and worn by employees when required.
  • Consider keeping a daily list with names and contact information for each person who was in the workplace. This information must be stored privately and securely (e.g. in a locked cabinet or password protected database) before being destroyed in a safe manner (e.g. shredding). This list can be used in the event you need to identify high-risk close contacts if needed.
  • Ensure heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system (including duct and filter system) is functioning as intended and is maintained as per manufacturer's instructions.

Staff with symptoms

  • If the employee who has symptoms is not already at home, direct them to go home, self-isolate and follow these instructions.
  • If the workplace has a separate isolation area, ask the employee to wait there if needed, e.g. if the person needs to wait to be picked up. Ideally the isolation area should have a door and provide a safe space for someone to wait away from others.
  • Anyone who has a COVID-19 symptom, regardless of vaccine status, should stay home and speak with their doctor if necessary. Doing a self-assessment can help determine what steps you should take.
  • Clean and disinfect areas where the unwell person was and any surfaces they may have contacted as soon as possible. Follow public health advice for cleaning and disinfection to reduce the risk of spread (see below).
  • Individuals who were exposed to the individual with symptoms should follow guidance for being exposed to COVID-19 based on the type of setting they work in.  Employees should identify all individuals they have had a high-risk close contact with 48 hours before symptom onset and notify them of this exposure.

A high-risk close contact is a person who:

  • Has had close personal interaction (two metres) with a positive case for 15 minutes or longer. This time can be cumulative across multiple encounters during their infectious period.
  • Had direct contact with the person with COVID-19, such as hugging. This also includes sharing items, such as drinks, vapes and cigarettes.

Consider including this information in your workplace policies and procedures.

  • Collect information that may be needed to identify close contacts
    • Length of time employee/patron has been feeling unwell/ when symptoms began (if applicable)
    • Date COVID-19 test performed (if applicable)
    • Last time staff worked/patron in organization
    • Potential close contacts of staff/patron
  •  Maintain confidentiality of personal health information of staff/patron who tested positive
  •  Inform employees/patrons who are close contacts of the need to self-isolate if required and get tested if eligible (regardless of whether they have symptoms or not). 
  •  Communicate clearly and often with employees/patrons while keeping any personal health information of those with COVID-19 confidential. In a small workplace/organization, others may know who this person is, however as an employer you must do everything you can to safeguard personal health information. 
  • Make sure that staff who need to self-isolate are aware of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that provides up to $500 to individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19. Individuals may apply for up to a total of 2 weeks of support.
  • Clean and disinfect immediately after a person who wasn’t feeling well leaves the area, or who was notified to go home and self-quarantine due to exposure, was in the workplace/organization. Most of the time, by the time you find out someone is has COVID-19, several days will have passed since they were in the workplace, so cleaning may have already been completed. Review cleaning/disinfecting processes to ensure they are thorough and frequent.
  • Report to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) within 4 calendar days and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) within 3 calendar days to advise that one of your employees has tested positive due to a potential exposure at work. All workplaces with staff who test positive for COVID-19 should connect with both MLTSD and WSIB. WSIB are responsible for determining the work-relatedness of claims and possible work-related claims should always be reported.
    • Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development: Toll-free: 1-877-202-0008. You may also email [email protected]
    • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board: Telephone: 416-344-1000 or Toll-free: 1-800-387-0750

Guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19

Employers:

  • Advise employees and clients to stay home if they are sick/have any COVID-19 symptoms. They should notify management if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, during work or when visiting the business. Staff who begin to feel unwell at home can complete the COVID-19 worker and employee screening tool to determine the steps they should take. If eligible and directed to do so, employee should book a COVID-19 test online.
  • If employees identify that they have COVID-19 symptoms, direct the employee to go home, self-isolate and follow these instructions..
  • Reinforce the importance of staying home when you have COVID-19 symptoms and related workplace policies during in-person meetings, in staff updates, and on email/intranet.
  • Communicate infection control messages & policies in staff updates, email/intranet updates, on business websites, and through signage.
  • Employers have the right to develop additional policies related to sick time and sick leave. We encourage you to review your relevant workplace employee policy.
  • Inform employees about the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that provides up to $500 to individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19. Individuals may apply for up to a total of 2 weeks of support.

Employees:

  • Let management know immediately if feeling unwell prior to your shift or while on premise.
  • Stay at home if you are ill or have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Advise management after being assessed or tested for COVID-19 of any direction, including the need to self-isolate or stay home from work, provided by public health, your health care provider, or an assessment centre.
  • If advised to stay at home without being tested, advise management and follow the directions provided by public health or health care provider to remain at home until a negative test or further direction is received.
  • Look into your eligibility for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that provides up to $500 to individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19. Individuals may apply for up to a total of 2 weeks of support.

Employers:

  • Communicate with staff if advised that a staff or customer tested positive with COVID-19.  While Hamilton Public Health recommends that you communicate clearly with others in your workplace, you should follow your organizational policies and work with your occupational health and safety department to determine how your organization will handle communication with the public following a notification of a positive test.
  • Sample communication for staff following a positive test: 
    We were informed on (date/time) that a person who was in our workplace (date/time) tested positive for COVID-19. We will be telling everyone who was in close contact with the individual to to follow the guidelines that applies to them.  People with symptoms are to assume that they have COVID-19 and  book a COVID-19 test if eligible. If not eligible for testing, individuals should follow the guidance that applies to them. Everyone else who was not a close contact should continue to self-monitor for symptoms. Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to (contact at your organization).

Employees:

  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 self-isolate and book a COVID-19 test if eligible. If you feel you have been exposed to COVID-19 at work, home, or in the community, review this web page to help you determine if you were a close contact . If you are still unsure please call your health care provider or public health. Employees are to notify their supervisor if they have been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19/has COVID-19 symptoms and advise of any direction received that may impact their work (e.g. advised to be tested and/or self-isolate).

Employers:
Develop clear policies related to return to work, based on public health guidance:

  • Medical clearance tests are not required to return to work. 
  • For high risk contacts: 
  • The Province has set specific criteria for when people are eligible to be tested for COVID-19. Follow-up testing after a COVID infection would not meet current testing criteria.
  • After a COVID-19 infection, an individuals is  “cleared” to end quarantine (i.e. return to work) if all of the following criteria are met:
  • 1. They have completed the time required for self-isolation [5, 10 or 20 days] AND
  • 2. They have no fever (without the use of fever reducing medicine) AND
  • 3. Their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.

Employers:

  • Follow cleaning and disinfection guidelines.
  • Increase cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as point of sale transaction equipment, elevator buttons, keyboards, mouse, phones, desks, computers, door knobs, light switches, seating areas, lunch tables, kitchens, and washrooms. Create an enhanced cleaning schedule to disinfect frequently touched surfaces and common areas.
  • If an employee feels unwell at work and needs to go home, disinfect the area and surfaces the employee may have come into contact with as soon as possible.
  • Use cleaners and disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19. These will have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and be approved by Health Canada. View a list of cleaners and disinfectants.
  • Ensure proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn when using these products.
  • Ensure that cleaning staff: 
    • Check the expiry date of products used.
    • Always follow the manufacturer's instruction for use. 
    • Review the required contact time for the product to work. Contact times should be between 3-5 minutes ideally. Products that take longer may require a second application.
      • For most products, the contact times are mentioned in the fine print label and they are usually 10 minutes (Lysol, Clorox, etc.).
      • For hospital/institutional/commercial grade products the contact times are highlighted on the front label.
  • Cleaners used on surfaces that may come into contact with food and drink should be identified as safe for food surfaces.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning or disinfecting.

Employees:

  • Clean and disinfect your own workstation and common items, including:
    • Common or shared equipment and tools, such as cashier’s stations, machinery, debit stations, keypads, self-serve kiosks
    • Electronic equipment such as computers or cell phones.
  • When cleaning:
    • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for use of a cleaner or disinfectant and the cleaning of electronic equipment, including the length of time before removing;
    • Ensure good ventilation when using products (e.g. open windows/doors, use fans);
    • Wear proper personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves and/or mask), as required;
    • Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water right after cleaning or disinfecting.

Workplace resources

  1. Inform your employees about any upcoming changes as much as possible - When people are informed of what changes are coming and how things are being addressed, they are better able to cope with the change.
  2. Ask employees what their needs are during this time - When you involve your employees in assessing their work needs during this time, it will provide them with some level of control over the situation.
  3. Acknowledge the many emotions that your employees are experiencing - It is important to recognize that it is very normal for people to experience anxiety and many different emotions at this time. It is important to validate these emotions and to let your employees know they are not alone.
  4. Ensure that there are social supports available for your employees - Physical distancing does not mean social isolation.  Have existing health and safety groups support mental well-being by reaching out and connecting with other employees virtually.
  5. Promote positive ways to cope through this challenge - Share positive coping strategies with your employees to protect their mental health.
  6. Remind employees that we are all making choices in order to keep one another safe.
  7. Connect your employees to mental health supports Remind employees that it is ok to not be ok. Share information on existing EAP or EFAP programs that your workplace provides. For additional supports employees can visit: www.hamilton.ca/coronavirus/taking-care-your-mental-health

Adapted from Managing through COVID-19 How to Support Your Employee’s Mental Health – An Employer’s Guide

The resources and guidance documents provided on this page are to help workplaces and businesses conduct their own COVID-19 risk assessment and develop processes to help protect their employees and patrons. It remains the responsibility of the workplace to ensure that it complies with all applicable laws and is permitted to operate when deciding to open. Hamilton Public Health services is available to answer questions and provide general comments about plans, however do not provide advice regarding a workplace’s ability to operate.