COVID-19 in the Workplace

Both employers and employees have a role to play to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Below are recommendations that apply to all  non-healthcare workplaces and businesses, to ensure that both employees and customers stay safe.

Prevent & prepare for COVID-19 in the workplace

  • Take measures to protect employees as mandated under Ontario’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA),
  • Develop policies that support employees to be absent from work due to illness or close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Develop a safety plan to reduce and manage the risk of COVID-19 in your workplace.
  • Keep a daily list with names and contact information for each person who was in the workplace. This list should be ready if requested by public health. This information must be kept for at least 30 days and 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). Public health will use this list to notify and provide direction for close contacts to self-isolate or self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

Staff with symptoms

  • Direct the person feeling unwell to stay home (if at home) or to go home (if at work), self-isolate and book COVID-19 testing.
  • If the workplace has a separate isolation area, ask the person 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.
  • 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.
  • Call Hamilton Public Health Services 905-974-9848 option 4 for further guidance/advice as required.

Returning to work after COVID-19 isolation

  • Employees can return to work 10 days after the start of their symptoms as long as they no longer have fever AND symptoms are improving or resolved OR, if they didn’t have symptoms, 10 days since the date of their test. Other employees who were close contacts (regardless if they test positive or negative) may only return to work after they complete their 14-day isolation period. Repeat testing or doctor’s notes are not required to return to work.

COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace

A COVID-19 outbreak may be declared by Hamilton Public Health Services (HPHS) when two or more confirmed cases can be linked to the workplace (e.g. same work area, same shift) within a 14-day period and it is likely that the infection was spread in the workplace.

If an employee or customer tests positive for COVID-19, HPHS will interview the person to determine if others were exposed. Consent must be obtained from an employee before disclosing personal health information to their employer.

If you have been notified that an employee has tested positive and/or if you have concerns that people may have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 in the workplace contact Public Health Services at 905-974-9848 option 4.

Common questions about COVID-19 in the workplace

  • Call Hamilton Public Health Services at 905-974-9848 option 4 for direction and support. Staff in close contact (less than 6 feet away) with the case have had potential exposure and will be directed to self-isolate and if symptomatic, book a COVID-19 test.
  • Communicate clearly and often with employeeswhile keeping any personal health information of those with COVID-19 confidential. In a small workplace, others may know who this person is, however as an employer you must do everything you can to safeguard personal health information. A sample communication can be found below.
  • Report to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development 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 an exposure at work.
    • Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development: Toll-free: 1-877-202-0008. You may also email your notice to [email protected]
    • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board: Telephone: 416-344-1000 or Toll-free: 1-800-387-0750

Staff can return to work 10 days after the start of their symptoms, if symptoms are improving or resolved OR, if they didn’t have symptoms, 10 days since the date of their test.  Other employees who were close contacts (regardless if they test positive or negative) may only return to work after they complete their 14-day isolation period. Repeat testing or doctor’s notes are not required to return.

  • Anyone who tests positive will be contacted by Public Health Services.
  • Other employees in the workplace will be contacted by public health if, through an assessment, it is determined they were a close contact.
  • Workplaces are contacted when there is evidence of spread in the workplace.
  • If the risk of exposure for the workplace is low and public health follow-up is not required, the workplace may not receive a call from HPHS.
  • Unless advised by public health through the above assessment, there are no restrictions or special measures required for contacts of suspected cases of COVID-19 in the setting. There is no need to close the setting or send people home.
  • You do not automatically need to close if an employeeor customer tests positive for COVID-19. Public health performs a risk assessment for all  positive cases including those that may occur in a workplace.
  • Public health will provide advice regarding measures that the workplace or staff may need to take. Unless advised by Public health, there is no need to close or send people home.

While Hamilton Public Health Services recommends that you communicate clearly with others in your workplace, you should follow your organizations policies and work with your occupational health and safety department to decide how to communicate with the public following a positive case. In general, public health will only suggest communicating with the public (e.g. social media, letter, email or e-blast) when the public needs to be informed of a workplace outbreak or when people who could have been exposed in your workplace and can’t be identified through contact tracing efforts, e.g. customers who may have been in your workplace while the employee was infectious but for whom you have no name or contact information.

Sample Communication

Hamilton Public Health Services contacted us on (date/time) to inform us that a person who was in our workplace (date/time) tested positive for COVID-19. Due to privacy legislation we cannot share the name of the individual(s) who tested positive. However, we will be informing everyone who was in close contact with the case to leave the workplace, self-isolate and book an appointment for a COVID-19 test if they are experiencing symptoms. Individuals who were not in close contact are low-risk and will continue to self-monitor for symptoms and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering each day. Please note the following:

  • For individuals with COVID-19 infection, Public Health performs a risk assessment for all exposures including those that may occur in a workplace.
  • Public health will provide advice regarding any other measures that the workplace or staff may need to take to lower the risk of transmission.
  • Unless advised by Public health through the above assessment, there are no restrictions or special measures required for contacts of suspected cases of COVID-19 in the setting. There is no need to close the workplace or send people home.

Should you have any questions, please reach out to (contact at organization). For public health-related concerns, call 905-974-9848, option 4.

If you are aware that an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 was in close contact from another employee, these employees should be informed that they may have come into contact with a COVID-19 case and should be directed to go home, self-isolate and book an appointment for a COVID-19 test. To reduce false negative results, if you do not have symptoms, it is best to get tested no earlier than 7 days after you may have been exposed. While informing others, you are obligated to protect the privacy of the individual who tested COVID-19 positive. Staff who were not in close contact with the case will continue working and self-monitor for symptoms.

General guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19

Employers:

  • Advise employees and clients to stay home if sick and notify management if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, during work or when visiting the business.  Advise staff who begin to feel unwell at home to complete the COVID-19 online self-assessment and follow directions provided. If directed to do so, employee should book a COVID-19 test online.
  •  If employees do not pass screening questions that would allow them to enter the workplace (as found in the  Ontario Ministry of Health COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces (Businesses and Organizations) (Version 1 – September 25, 2020) direct them to go home, self-isolate, complete the online self-assessment and follow direction provided.
  • Post a self-screening poster (PDF) at entrances informing customers not to enter if they have symptoms or any close contact with a COVID-19 case. Where required, actively screen customers prior to entering. 
  • Reinforce this message and related workplace policies during in-person meetings, at staff updates, within email/intranet
  • Communicate infection control messages & policies at in-person meetings, 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 workplace employee compensation 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 by Public Health that a staff or customer at the store has 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 case.
  • Sample communication for staff following a positive case: 
    Hamilton Public Health Services contacted us on (date/time) to inform us that an individual who was in our workplace (date/time) tested positive for COVID-19. Due to privacy legislation we cannot share the name of the individual(s) who tested positive. Public health performs a risk assessment for all exposures including those that may occur in a workplace. Based on Public Health advice, we will be informing everyone who was in close contact with the case to leave the workplace, self-isolate and book COVID-19 test. Everyone else who was not a close contact should continue to self-monitor and conduct a daily screening assessment. Please note the following:
    • For individuals with COVID-19, public health assesses the risk of spread to others , including spread that may occur in the workplace.
    • Public health will provide advice regarding any other measures that the workplace or staff may need to take to reduce spread.
    • Unless advised by public health through, there are no restrictions or special measures required for contacts of suspected cases of COVID-19 in the workplace. There is no need to close or send people home.
    • Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to (contact at your organization). For public health-related concerns, please call: 905-974-9848, Option #4
  • Public health will follow up with workplaces if COVID-19 is confirmed in the workplace and provide direction, as necessary.
  • If the risk in the workplace is low and public health follow-up is not required, the workplace maynot receive a call from public health.

Employees:

  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or feel you have been exposed to COVID-19 at work, home, or in the community, call your health care provider or public health. Appointments for COVID-19 testing can be booked online.
  • Employees are to notify their supervisor if they have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 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 employees waiting on test results: Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate at home until test results are received. Household contacts should physically distance from the person self-isolating and should self-monitor for symptoms until test results are known. Household members should follow guidance from the provincial online self-assessment.
  • For close contacts: An employee who was a contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 can return to work after 14 days of self-isolation from the date they were exposed (note: 14 days of self-isolation is required, even if the individual who was exposed tests COVID-19 negative).
  • For employees who test negative: They may return if:
    • Their symptoms have been resolved for at least 24 hours, and
    • They have not been in close contact with someone who currently has COVID-19.
  • For employees who test positive: Employees with mild to moderate illness should self-isolate for 10 days from when their symptoms started (or 10 days from positive test date if they didn’t have symptoms). After the self-isolation period, return to work is permitted if the individual’s symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours. Absence of cough is not required for those known to have chronic cough or are having reactive airways post-infection.
  • A medical note or proof of a negative test is not required and is strongly discouraged as a condition for returning to work.

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