COVID-19 in the Workplace
For general COVID-19 Vaccine information:
- Call Provincial Vaccine Info Line at 1-888-999-6488 (TTY 1-866-797-0007)
- Ask your health care provider
- Book appointment with SHN to speak with a doctor online or call 416-438-2911 ext. 5738
- Book appointment with Sick Kids Hospital to speak with a pediatric nurse about COVID-19 vaccines for youth.
For COVID-19 Vaccine booking information:
Call 905-974-9848, option 7
Email [email protected]
Prevent and Manage COVID-19 & Other Respiratory Viruses in Workplace
Effective December 23, 2021, Hamilton Public Health Services paused declaring outbreaks in nonhigh-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, hospital schools and employer-provided living setting of International Agricultural Workers. 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.
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 COVID-19 workplace health and safety measures
- Educate and train workers employees on COVID-19 workplace policies.
- Encourage employees to get vaccinated and stay up-to-date with their vaccinations, including all recommended doses. 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.
- 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 is feeling sick should stay home and speak with their doctor if necessary. Doing a self-assessment can help determine what steps you should take.
- 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 who had high-risk close contact within the 48 hours before their symptoms began and notify them of this exposure.
Consider including this information in your workplace policies and procedures.
- Maintain confidentiality of personal health information of staff/patron who tested positive
- Inform employees/patrons who are close contacts of their close contact status and to self-monitor for symptoms and isolate if they become ill. Close contacts should be informed to wear a mask for 10 days from last exposure in all public settings.
- 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 your sick day policies and any available financial supports.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces, objects and equipment routinely. 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
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:
- High-risk contacts who do not have any symptoms do not need to self-isolate but should self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days since last exposure and follow these instructions
- High-risk contacts who have symptoms, must self-isolate and follow these instructions.
- Read more about isolation, testing and return to activities for close 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 symptomatic COVID-19 infection, an individual is “cleared” to end quarantine (i.e. return to work) if all of these criteria are met:
- 1.They have no fever (without the use of fever reducing medicine) AND
- 2.Their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms).
After isolating, wear a mask when out in public for 10 days from when your symptoms started.
People who test positive but do not have any symptoms do not need to self-isolate and can attend work, while wearing a mask for 10 days when in public. Isolate immediately if symptoms develop.
Stay home if sick
- 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, or are feeling unwell however mild, during work or when visiting the business. Staff who begin to feel unwell at home can complete the COVID-19 self-assessment 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 or are feeling unwell, direct the employee to go home, self-isolate and follow these instructions..
- Reinforce the importance of staying home when you are feeling sick 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.
- 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 as needed.
- Information on how to file a complaint if you have workplace health and safety concerns
Tips to protect the mental health of employees
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Promote positive ways to cope through this challenge - Share positive coping strategies with your employees to protect their mental health.
- Remind employees that we are all making choices in order to keep one another safe.
- 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.
Although most regulatory requirements have now been lifted, COVID-19 continues to circulate in our community and caution remains essential. Employers play a critical role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in their organization and can lower the risk of being exposed to viruses by following best practices. The guidance below outlines best practices as recommended by Hamilton Public Health Services for organizations to consider. These practices can be implemented in any setting (sport organization, places of worship, event venue etc.)
Organizations are also encouraged to do a risk assessment and are encouraged to review their own organizational policies and operations and implement the appropriate infection prevention and control measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and other respiratory viruses in their organization for patrons and staff. Organizations should also be aware of requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act when determining measures needed to protect employees and volunteers.
Individuals and organizations can minimize their risk of both COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by layering public health measures together. Layers of protection include:
- Staying up-to-date with vaccinations by receiving all recommended doses
- Screening/monitoring for symptoms & staying home when sick. Communicate to employees and patrons not to enter your organization if feeling unwell
- Wearing well-fitting masks
- Maintaining physical distancing where possible
- Frequent hand washing and following best practices when coughing or sneezing
- Following thorough cleaning and disinfecting processes
- Maintaining good ventilation in indoor spaces
Best Practices for Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Workplace
COVID-19 vaccination provides the best protection against COVID-19 and lowers the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and long-term impacts from COVID-19 (long-COVID) .
Booster doses are critical for lowering the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to stay up-to-date with their vaccinations and receive booster recommended doses.
These groups are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19:
- People of advanced age
- People living in congregate settings
- People with underlying health conditions
- People who are unvaccinated
- Encourage patrons/employees to get vaccinated by reinforcing benefits of vaccination. Share the message from multiple levels within the organization
- Provide credible information from trusted sources to educate employees/patrons and answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines (e.g. post vaccine information in your organization).
- Share information on how to get a vaccine
- Develop organizational policies that assist staff to get vaccinated (e.g. offering flexible hours)
While no longer required under provincial legislation, a Safety Plan can help your organization adopt good practices to control the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Even if you decide not to have a Safety Plan, existing health & safety legislations require that workplaces have measures and procedures in place if there is an active outbreak of COVID-19 in the organization or there are people in the organization who are suspect, probable or confirmed positive for COVID-19.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act employers are required to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting employees and volunteers from exposure to infectious diseases at work.
- Educate staff about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19
- Develop policies to help staff stay home when they are sick and to be sent home if becoming sick at work
- Maintain communications to ensure staff are aware of all organizational policies and procedures
- Ministry: COVID-19 and workplace health and safety
- Ministry: COVID-19 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Ministry: COVID-19: Stop the Spread
- Ministry: Guide to developing your COVID-19 workplace safety plan
The risk of COVID-19 increases in enclosed and crowded spaces. Having proper ventilation in place is an important public health measure. Properly ventilated spaces are less likely to be linked to virus spread.
Increasing the amount of air that’s exchanged indoors decreases the likelihood of COVID-19 spread and other respiratory infections in the workplace.
- Ensure HVAC systems are well maintained by scheduling regular inspections and tune ups by certified technicians.
- Adjust HVAC systems to increase the amount of fresh air and reduce recirculation
- Open windows and doors where possible to increase air circulation
- Government of Canada: COVID-19: Improving indoor ventilation
- Government of Canada: COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic
- Ministry: Guide to developing your COVID-19 workplace safety plan (learn more about ventilation under “ventilation and air flow”)
Stay home if feeling unwell and encourage employees to do the same by having supportive policies in place. Businesses and other settings may choose to continue require employees to complete screening. Learn more about public health measures from the Ontario government
- Let people know not to enter the building if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are required to isolate
- Consider posting signs near entrances (i.e. passive screening) so that people know not to enter the building if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are required to isolate
- Consider asking staff to complete a health screening before coming to work each day
- Review your sick leave policies or establish new non-punitive sick leave policies. Make sure employees know how to access financial supports that are available to them.
- Online: worker and employee screening tool
- Ministry: Screening for COVID-19: guidance for employers
- City of Hamilton: Have COVID-19 Symptoms or Tested Positive for COVID-19
Even with most masking requirements being lifted, masking remains a vital part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
High-quality, well-fitted face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. Individuals who wear a well-fitting mask are protecting others around them. Certain types of masks, such as medical masks, protect both others around the wearer as well as the wearer themselves.
Masking should especially be considered in indoor settings that are crowded and/or with poor ventilation. It is also especially important to wear a mask if you are more at risk of severe disease or outcomes, around others who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes, or visiting a group living setting.
- Consider displaying signs at entrances and inside the building to remind people about wearing a mask
- Consider providing masks for anyone who forgets to bring one
- Encourage patrons to wear a mask indoors, especially when physical distancing is not possible
- Protect the health and safety of your staff by ensuring that staff who are unable to physically distance are wearing a medical mask
- Train staff on the care, use and limitations of face masks
COVID-19 and many other respiratory illnesses are spread more easily during close contact (e.g. congestion and crowding). Increasing the space between individuals – ideally to at least 2 metres apart- can help to limit the spread of the virus.
- Identify areas where crowding and bottlenecks are common, such as lobbies and washrooms, and use staff, barriers or signage to redirect people who may gather in these areas
- Consider requiring appointments/reservations during peak times to limit lines and crowding
- Ministry: Guide to developing your COVID-19 workplace safety plan (see “Maximize physical distancing and separation”)
The virus that causes COVID-19 may be transferred to surfaces or objects. Proper handwashing helps to eliminate contact transmission of COVID-19 and other germs.
- Remind employees to clean their hands frequently and thoroughly, especially before preparing, serving and eating food.
- Ensure employees have access to hand hygiene stations supplied with soap and water and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Consider access to hand hygiene stations for patrons
- Train employees on proper hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette (e.g. sneeze and cough into their sleeve and avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth)
- Ensure washrooms, lunchrooms, break and common areas have the proper supplies (e.g. waste bins with garbage bags, no touch garbage cans, hand sanitizer and/or soap and paper towels.
General cleaning and disinfecting guidelines should be followed to limit the potential spread of germs. Determine which surfaces are considered high-touch and consider cleaning and disinfecting them more often. Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning or disinfecting.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces as needed to maintain a sanitary condition
- Review and follow cleaning/disinfecting processes to ensure that they are thorough and frequent
- 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.
- Public Health Ontario: Cleaning and Disinfection for Public Settings
- Government of Canada: Hard-surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers (COVID-19)
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.