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  if you need additional  support..

Returning to work after COVID-19 infection

  • 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 gone. If they never had symptoms staff may return 10 days from the date of their test (unless the employee is immunocompromised, in which case return is after 20 days). 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.
  • You should not require a doctor's note, proof of a negative COVID-19 test, or medical clearance for staff to return to work.
  • Testing positive for weeks and sometimes even a couple of months after a COVID-19 infection is over is common since the test detects leftover bits of the virus that are no longer living and unable to cause an infection. However, people are no longer infectious (i.e. able to spread the virus) after completing their isolation.
  • The Province has set specific criteria for when people are eligible to be tested for COVID-19. Follow-up testing after a COVID infection, without another indication, would not meet testing criteria.
  • After a COVID-19 infection, staff are “cleared” to end self-isolation (i.e. return to work) if all of the following criteria are met:
    1) They have completed 10 days of self-isolation (or 20 days if immuocompromised) 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.

Employees should continue to actively screen daily with the worker and employee COVID-19 screening tool after their  return to work

Returning to work after COVID-19 Symptoms

If employees have COVID-19 symptoms they, and everyone in their household must self-isolate until they receive a negative test. To return to work the following criteria must be met:

  • An individuals is  not a close contact AND
  • They have received a negative test AND
  • They don’t have a fever and symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.

If an individual chooses not to get tested, they must self-isolate for 10 days from when symptoms began and everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days starting from when the individuals symptoms began.

A doctor's note or public health clearance is not required for staff 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.

Hamilton’s Medical Officer of Health issued a Class Order under Section 22 or the Health Protection and Promotion Act to help enforce COVID-19 requirements within workplaces. Workplaces must immediately notify Hamilton Public Health Services at 905 974 9848 option #6, if two or more cases of COVID-19 are identified in connection with your workplace premises within a 14-day interval.

In addition to notifying Hamilton Public Health Services as soon as you become aware of two or more individuals who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14 calendar-day period in connection with your workplace, you must also notify Hamilton Public Health Services as soon as you become aware of five or more individuals who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14 calendar-day period in connection with your workplace.

Hamilton Public Health helps all workplaces with outbreak management and will inform workplaces what additional actions may need to be taken. Hamilton Public Health will declare when an outbreak is over.

Common questions about COVID-19 in the workplace

  • When employees call in to report that they tested positive for COVID-19 ask how long they have been feeling ill and whether they had any symptoms the last time they were at work or in your establishment. Record the test date, the last time staff worked, and when symptoms began (if applicable).
  • Ensure the list with names and contact information for each person in the workplace or who visited the workplace and who may have had contact with any positive case is readily available (this must be shared with Public Health if requested).
  • Maintain confidentiality of personal health information of staff/customer who tested positive
  • Determine close contacts and inform them of the need to self-quarantine and get tested (regardless of whether they have symptoms or not). Close contacts should be informed that they must self-quarantine for 14 days from their last contact with the positive case (even if they test negative).
    • All close contacts should be tested immediately (regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not).
    • Close contacts who later develop symptoms and initially tested negative may get tested again at any time.
    • All close contacts (if they have not yet tested positive) should be retested around day 10 of their 14-day quarantine period, regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not.
    • Close contacts cannot leave isolation or return to work for any reason before the 14- day period is over (i.e. self-isolation ends on day 15).
    • Household members of close contacts to a positive case must  stay home as much as possible unless it is essential to leave the home (e.g. work, school, childcare, groceries and medical care).
  • Call Hamilton Public Health Services at 905-974-9848 if you need additional support, especially if you have concerns about who is considered a close contact or about what next steps your workplace should be taking.  
  • Communicate clearly and often with employees while 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. 
  • 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.
  • Cleaning and disinfection  should be done immediately after a person who wasn’t feeling well, or who was notified to go home and self-quarantine due to exposure, was in the workplace. Deep clean the area where employees or clients  were or may have come into contact. Most of the time, by the time you find out someone is COVID-positive, 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.

Mandatory Reporting

  • 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 an 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 
  • 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 is no need to close the setting or send people home.
  • You do not automatically need to close or send people who are not close contacts home if an employee or customer tests positive for COVID-19. Public health performs a risk assessment for all  positive cases including those that may occur in a workplace.
  • When a workplace has five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases within a 14 calendar-day period and spread can be reasonably linked to the workplace, Hamilton Public Health Services may require either full or partial closures for a specified duration of time.
  • Characteristics of each outbreak will be considered independently, and individual assessments would guide the decision for full facility closures.

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
We were informed (by Hamilton Public Health Services) on (date/time) 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  advising everyone who was in close contact with the case to leave the workplace and self-quarantine. Individuals with symptoms will also be informed to book an appointment for a COVID-19 test. 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 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.

If you are aware that an employee was in close contact with a COVID-positive case, they should be informed that they may have come into contact with a COVID-19 case and should be directed to go home quarantine and book an appointment for a COVID-19 test (regardless of whether they have symptoms or not). To reduce false negative results, all close contacts (if they have not yet tested positive) should be retested around day 10 of their 14-day quarantine period, regardless of whether they are symptomatic. People who develop symptoms can be tested at any time. While informing others of a case in your workplace, 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  may 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 worker and employee screening tool and follow directions provided. If directed to do so, employee should book a COVID-19 test online.
  • If employees do not pass screening questions deny entery into the workplace  Direct the employee 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 the importance of screening and following screening tool direction and related workplace policies during in-person meetings, at staff updates, within 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 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 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: 
    We were informed (by Hamilton Public Health Services) on  (date/time) 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. 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  telling everyone who was in close contact with the case to leave the workplace and quarantine. People with symptoms are advised to book a 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
  • 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 self-quarantine and book a COVID-19 test. If youfeel 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. 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. People are generally no longer considered to be infectious (i.e. able to spread the virus) after completing their self-quarantine period.
  • For employees waiting on test results (but were not close contacts): Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should self-quarantine at home until test results are received. Household contacts should physically distance from the person self-quarantining, only go out for essential reasons and should self-monitor for symptoms until test results are known. 
  • 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).
    • All close contacts should be tested immediately (regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not)
    • Close contacts who later develop symptoms may get tested again at any point
    • All close contacts (if they have not yet tested positive) should be retested around day 10 of their 14-day quarantine period, regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not
    • Close contacts cannot leave isolation or return to work for any reason before the 14 period is over (i.e. self-quarantine ends on day 15).
    • All household members of a close contact of a positive case will be asked to quarantine for 14 days unless it is essential to leave the home
    • If a close contact of a positive case develops symptoms, all of their close contacts will be directed to quarantine until the test result of the close contact returns negative.
  • For employees who test negative: They may return if:
    • Their symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours, and
    • They have not been in close contact with someone who currently has COVID-19.
    • No household members are currently waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test or have COVID-19 symptoms.
  • 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.
  • Testing positive for weeks and sometimes even a couple of months after a COVID-19 infection is over is common since the test detects leftover bits of the virus that are no longer living and unable to cause infection. People are generally no longer infectious (i.e. able to spread the virus) after completing their quarantine.
  • 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 10 days of self-isolation  (or 20 days if immunocompromised) 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.

    Employees should continue to actively screen with the worker and employee COVID-19 screening tool daily after their return to work.

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