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COVID-19 and the workplace

Published on: March 12, 2020

As information about COVID-19 develops, WorkSafeBC continues to monitor the progression of the virus and refer to the guidance of public health officials.

Note: For the most current COVID-19 information, please visit the COVID-19 information and resources section of our website.

WorkSafeBC is advising employers and workers to follow the recommended personal hygiene practices like frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and avoiding direct contact with others.

We have summarized the recommendations for some key workplace issues related to COVID-19.

Circumstances where workers should not be at work

In general, workers who are ill should remain at home and contact their local health care provider.

If a worker falls into one of the categories below, employers need to instruct workers to follow the advice from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) and public health authorities to ensure the worker does not come into work and risk infecting others.

If you have COVID-19

The BC CDC advises that if you are sick with COVID-19, you need to stay home. Contact your local health care provider to get advice, or call HealthLinkBC at 811 to speak to a nurse. The BC CDC also provides guidance on self-isolation.

If you have travelled internationally

The BC Centre for Disease Control is asking people arriving anywhere from outside of Canada to self-isolate, and monitor for symptoms for 14 days after arrival in Canada. People arriving from Hubei Province, Italy or Iran are asked to take extra measures to limit their contact.

If you have travelled outside Canada, monitor yourself and your family closely for symptoms like fever, cough, and difficulty breathing for a total of 14 days from your return. If any symptoms arise, limit contact with others and call HealthLinkBC at 811 at any time or speak with your health care provider.

If you have been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19

If you have had close contact with an infected person you are at high risk of exposure. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that in these circumstances, you voluntarily home quarantine (self-isolation), with mandatory quarantine depending on circumstances, and practice hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, cleaning, and self-monitoring.

Right to refuse work

Workers in B.C. have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard. In those circumstances, employers need to consider the refusal on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation. For more information, see Occupational Health and Safety Guideline G3.12.

Workplace protections

Respiratory protection

Respirators are currently only required for certain tasks.

The BC CDC advises that surgical/procedure masks should be used by sick people to prevent transmission to other people. A mask will help keep a person's droplets in.

They also advise that it may be less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves. Masks may give a person a false sense of security and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face (e.g., to adjust the mask).

Health care workers wear surgical masks, eye protection, and gowns in order to protect themselves and patients. During health care procedures in which aerosol sprays may be generated (for example, when giving certain inhaled medications), health care workers must wear specialized masks (e.g., N95s).

Additional recommendations for employers

  • Prepare a business continuity plan, as well as a contingency plan, to use if the progression of the virus impacts your workplace.
  • Consider limiting worker participation in large social gatherings (e.g., conferences, meetings) and travel that involves spending time in large groups of people (e.g., air travel) where practicable. Refer to guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada on large gatherings.
  • Consider whether workers can work remotely (e.g., work at home).
  • Increase workplace cleaning, provide the necessary supplies, and reinforce personal hygiene messages to workers.

Compensation

Employer sick leave policies

Every employer should have a policy around sick leave and compensation if a worker cannot work due to COVID-19 concerns. Employer policies need to abide by the Employment Standards Act, which sets standards for payment, compensation, and working conditions in most workplaces.

Employment insurance

For workers who qualify for employment insurance and have to undergo quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns, the federal government recently announced it would waive the one-week waiting period to receive benefits so the worker would receive benefits for an entire 14-day quarantine.

Workers’ compensation

WorkSafeBC compensation is only available for a work-related injury or illness and is not provided for workers who choose to withdraw from work for preventative reasons.

If you are worker who is submitting a claim for a COVID-19 virus infection contracted through a work-related exposure, please see How workers report a workplace injury or disease.

If you are an employer who is reporting that one of your workers has contracted the virus through a work-related exposure, please see How employers report a workplace injury or disease.

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