Workplace COVID-19 Exposures and Outbreaks

As Ontario moves to reopen more workplaces and businesses, both employers and employees have a role to play to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. Below are recommendations that apply to all workplaces and businesses, except health care settings, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure that staff, customers and visitors to your workplace stay safe.

Face Coverings and Masks By-law

As of July 17, 2020, face coverings are required to be worn within enclosed public spaces within the City of Hamilton. Read the Face Coverings and Masks By-law for details including:  

  • Requirements for masks or face coverings to be worn by staff when indoors in a public-serving or receiving area; and by clients when indoors and receiving service.  Expectations for establishments and the public.
  • Businesses that are exempt from this by-law.
  • Customer/client exemptions and how to address within your business.

COVID-19 Outbreaks in the Workplace

An outbreak of COVID-19 may be identified by the City of Hamilton when one or more cases of COVID-19 is associated with a workplace, a request for assistance from an employer, in response to complaints of illness at a workplace by employees or through an onsite inspection and referral from other government agencies.

If an employee, customer or visitor to your workplace tests positive for COVID-19, City of Hamilton Public Health Services will interview the individual to determine if staff on premise were exposed. Consent must be obtained from an employee before disclosing personal health information to their employer.

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

Employers are required to ensure these items are available or completed during a COVID-19 workplace outbreak:

  • Under Ontario’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), take all precautions reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.
  • Develop a preparedness and response plan in the event someone becomes ill with symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Support employees who need to be absent from work due to illness or being a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Report to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) if you advised that one of your employees has tested positive due to an exposure at the workplace.
  • Communicate with employees and business partners early and often to ensure accurate information is being shared. It is at the discretion of the business or organization to develop communications regarding exposure and cases of COVID-19, unless directed by Public Health Services; 
  • Keep a list of the names with contact information of all attendees at in-person business meetings or events.  Public Health Services will use this list to notify and provide instructions for close contacts to self-isolate or self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Maintain confidentiality of employees' personal health information.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that may have been touched by the sick employee as soon as possible. Follow public health advice for enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures to reduce the risk of spread in the setting.
  • Follow public health guidance on additional preventive measures that may be recommended for your workplace or business.
  • Communicate with staff and customers, as appropriate, when there is an outbreak.

Common questions about COVID exposure & outbreaks

  • If you were advised that one of your employees has tested positive due to an exposure at the workplace, report to the Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
  • If you were advised that a staff or customer at the store has tested positive for COVID-19, inform those in close contact (i.e. less than 6 feet away for 15 minutes or more and not wearing a mask) to go home, self-isolate and book an appointment to get tested for COVID-19. Inform staff who were not close contacts to self-monitor. Maintain confidentiality of employees' personal health information while communicating. It is at the discretion of the business or organization to develop general communications regarding exposure and cases of COVID-19, unless directed by Public Health Services.
  • Public Health Services will follow up with workplaces if an exposure has taken place on the premise and provide direction, as necessary. If the risk of exposure for the workplace is low and Public Health follow-up is not required, workplaces may not receive a call from Public Health.
  • Ensure you can quickly access the list of names with contact information of all attendees at in-person business meetings or events.  Public Health Services will use this list to notify and provide instructions for close contacts to self-isolate or self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that may have been touched by the sick employee as soon as possible. Follow public health advice for enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures to reduce the risk of spread.
  • Call Public Health Services COVID-19 Hotline if you require further advice or guidance at (905) 974-9848.
  • Public Health only connects with workplaces when it has been determined that individuals within the work place were at high risk of exposure and/or if Public Health has advice regarding other measures that the workplace or staff may need to take to reduce the risk of transmission. If the risk of exposure for the workplace is low and Public Health follow-up is not required, the workplace will not receive a call from Public Health.
  • 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 stop operating if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. 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 reduce 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. There is no need to close or send people home.

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 positive case. In general, Public Health will only request communicating with the public (e.g. social media, letter, email or e-blast) when there are not contact tracing records or records are insufficient to inform individuals at risk of exposure of their need to self-isolate/get tested or when the public needs to be informed of an outbreak.

While you are encouraged to communicate with your workplace, it is at the discretion of the business or organization to develop communications regarding exposure and cases of COVID-19, unless directed by Public Health Services. 

Sample Communication
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. 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. All other individuals are considered low-risk and should continue to self-monitor for symptoms and conduct a daily screening assessment.  Please note the following:

  • 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 reduce 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.

If you are aware that an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 was in close contact (less than 6 feet away from another employee for more than 15 minutes and without a face covering/mask), 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. While informing others of their potential exposure, you are obligated to protect the privacy of the individual who tested COVID-19 positive. Employees who were not in close contact with the case should continue working and self-monitor for symptoms.

General Guidance and Preparation to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19

Employers:

  • Encourage employees and customers to stay home if sick and report to management or an appropriate alternate if they become ill with any symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, during work or when visiting the business.   
  • Adopt a screening procedure (i.e. display signage (PDF) and provide forms to complete) to assist employees to report any symptoms or illness, however mild, prior to their shift or entering the workplace.
  • Encourage employees to take the COVID-19 online self-assessment. At a minimum your employee must comple the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces (Businesses and Organizations) (Sept 25, 2020 or as current)
  • Display 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.
  • Reinforce this message and related workplace policies during in-person meetings, at staff updates, within email/intranet updates, on business website, and through signage.
  • Advise employees who feel unwell prior to their shift or on premise to complete online self-assessment and follow direction provided. If directed to do so, employees can book a test online for COVID-19.
  • Separate any employee or customer who reports being ill on premise, asking them to go home immediately complete online self-assessment and follow direction provided.
  • 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.

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, their 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, their health care provider or an assessment centre to remain at home until a negative test is received or further direction provided.

Employers:

  • Communicate with staff if advised by Public Health that a staff or customer at the store has tested positive with COVID-19.  It is at the discretion of the business or organization to develop communications regarding exposure and cases of COVID-19, unless directed by Public Health Services. 

    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 should continue to self-monitor and conduct a daily screening assessment.  Please note the following:
    - Public health will provide advice regarding any other measures that the workplace or staff may need to take to reduce 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 setting or send people home.
    -
    Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to (contact at organization). For public health-related concerns, please call: 905-974-9848.

  • Public Health Services will follow up with workplaces if an exposure has taken place on premise and provide direction, as necessary.
  • If the risk of exposure in the workplace is low and Public Health follow-up is not required, the workplace will not receive a call from Public Health.

Employees:

  • If you feel you have been exposed to COVID-19 through their work, at home, or in the community, should call their health care provider or Public Health Services to book an appointment for COVID-19 testing.
  • Employees should contact management if they have been in contact with a confirmed or suspect case of COVID-19 and advise of any direction received that may impact their work arrangements or schedule (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;
    • In general, employees can return to work between 10-20 days after their symptoms began if positive for COVID-19 as directed by Public Health depending on the severity of the case.
    • After the self-isolation period, return to work is permitted as long as the individual does not have a fever (without the use of fever reducing medicines), and symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours. Absence of cough is not required for those known to have chronic cough or are experiencing reactive airways post-infection.
    • Avoid requiring a doctor’s note, verification of a negative COVID-19 test, or medical clearance as a condition for returning to work.

Employers:

  • Provide proper resources and supplies to ensure employees can follow recommended hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

    • Educate staff on the importance of practicing proper hand and respiratory etiquette.
    • Ensure proper hand hygiene supplies, such as tissues, waste receptacles or baskets, garbage bags or liners, hand sanitizer, soap and paper towel are available in washrooms, lunchrooms, break areas, and common areas.
    • Provide hand sanitizers dispensers (70-90% alcohol concentration) in high-traffic areas, such as store or business entrances, in waiting areas and change areas, near cash or pay stations and common areas frequented by staff or customers.
    • Remind staff of requirements during in-person meetings, at staff updates, within email/intranet updates and through posted signage (Protect Yourself, Cover Your Cough, How to Handwash / Handrub).
  • Discourage physical contact between staff such as handshakes and social gatherings during or outside of work.

Employees:

  • Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching your cell phone and contact with frequently touched surfaces.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, then throw the tissue in a lined waste basket.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Employers:

  • Develop policies and practices that can increase the physical distance among employees and their customers as much as possible.

    • Utilize telecommuting or work from home options for employees.
    • Offer online services or by phone whenever possible.
    • Follow contact-less delivery for mail, product or curb-side delivery services.
    • Develop options for clients to interact with employees in a non-crowded manner or utilize online platforms.
    • Stagger staff start, end and break schedule to reduce staff crowding during entry and exit to the workplace.
    • Develop maximum capacities or limitations on the number of people allowed in a business or locations (e.g. lunchrooms, meeting rooms, break areas, waiting rooms).
    • Allocate or design floor space to support physical distancing.
    • Minimum recommendation of 2 metres squared and ideally 4 metres squared, for each person (i.e. staff and customers) in the workplace.
    • Post physical distancing signage at all entrances, in employees rooms, in elevators, and in public areas (e.g. cashiers, service counters, waiting areas).
      • Use visual markers and announcements to control direct flow and maintain line management.
      • Use tape, decals, pylons or signage to direct traffic and promote physical distancing.
      • Remove surplus furniture and supplies from rooms, waiting areas and walkways to allow ease of movement while maintaining physical distancing.
      • Use public announcement systems and/or assign employees to remind other staff and customers to stay 2 metres apart.
    • Advise employees to physically distance (2 metres) from other staff and customers whenever possible. This includes when providing service or using lunchrooms, change rooms, meeting rooms, and other common areas.
    • Modify service provision to avoid prolonged close contact between customers and staff or among staff within an office setting by redesigning workplace areas including waiting areas, commercial spaces, and common rooms:
      • Close down waiting areas or restrict the number of customers in an area if insufficient space is available to support physical distancing.
      • Space out, tape off and/or remove furniture to allow for a 2 metre space in lunchrooms, change rooms, meeting rooms, break areas, waiting rooms, etc.
        • Use visual markers (e.g. tape on the floor, pylons, decals) to remind everyone where to stand to keep two metre distance between staff (e.g. on a production line)
        • Redesign workspaces and cubicles to allow for physical distancing between staff  
          • Assign workstations to a single user whenever possible, or limit the number of users and ensure cleaning measures are in place in between use
        • Install protective barriers (e.g. plexiglass) if there may be close contact between staff or between staff and clients (e.g. check-out lines, registration desks, etc.)
    • Use contactless payment options at checkout instead of cash.
    • Use outdoor space whenever possible.
    • Encourage employees to use masks and/or other face coverings when physical distancing is not possible.

Employees:

  • Be aware of workplace physical distancing requirements and to follow any guidelines or policies to others follow directions within the workplace.
  • Remind other staff and/or customers to physically distance from others, as required.
  • If carpooling, limit the number of passengers, refrain from carpooling when sick, and follow public health guidance for taxis and ride-share programs.

Employers:

  • Develop an enhanced cleaning schedule to disinfect frequently touched surfaces and common areas in the workplace, minimally twice per day or when items are visibly dirty.
    • Refer to Public Health Ontario’s Enhanced Cleaning for Public Settings guidelines.
    • Educate staff on the proper use of cleaning agents and disinfectants, including required disinfectant contact times (amount of time that the product will need to remain wet on a surface to achieve disinfection). Understand safety precautions and requirement for use of mask and gloves.
    • Educate employees on cleaning requirements and the use of personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves and/or masks) and how to use properly.
    • Advise employees or environmental cleaning staff of changes to an enhanced cleaning schedule.
  • Ensure an adequate supply of effective cleaning and disinfecting products are on hand to allow for enhanced cleaning and emergency situations.
    • Look for cleaning and disinfectant products with an 8-digit Drug Identification Number (DIN) to confirm it is approved for use in Canada. Workplaces can reference Health Canada’s list of hard-surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against (COVID-19).
    • Check the expiry dates of products and labels including a manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Provide staff access to cleaning materials and personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves) to use, as appropriate, when working with these products.

Employees:

  • Clean and disinfect their own workstation and common items, including:
    • Common or shared workplace equipment and tools, such as cashier’s stations, machinery, debit stations, keypads, self-serve kiosks, in between users.
    • Business and personal electronic equipment such as computers, cell phones, etc.
  • When performing enhanced cleaning tasks:
    • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for use of a cleaner or disinfectant and the cleaning of electronic equipment, including the length of time on contact before removing;
    • Ensure adequate ventilation when using products (e.g. open windows/doors, use fans);
    • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves and/or mask), as required;
    • Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning or disinfecting.

Employers:

Employee:

Employers:

Employees:

  • Employees returning from anywhere outside of Canada, for business or leisure purposes, or employees entering Canada as essential workers from other countries, are required by federal order to mandatory quarantine for 14-days upon their return.

Employers:

  • Share modifications and/or policies adopted by the workplace to protect staff and customers against COVID-19.
    • Update staff on the expectations to follow policies and carry out required practices as it relates to workplace health and safety.  Employ signage, emails and in person communications to reinforce measures taken by the business;
    • Communicate workplace expectations and policies to customers and clients through email, website updates, store signage, and in person communication.
  • Plan for workplace impacts due to staff illness or absenteeism due to personal or dependent illness, childcare needs during school closures or modified school formats, increased demands on services, and possible supply chain interruptions.
    • Proactively identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations;
    • Include contingencies within your business to address increased staff absenteeism or supply chains interruptions;
    • Decision making should be guided based on public health advice and your own internal business response plans.
  • If a building operator, ensure building ventilation systems are well maintained.
    • Schedule regular inspections including tune ups by certified technicians
    • Ensure filters are replaced as scheduled or sooner to support proper operation.

Additional resources