Return to the workplace: considerations for Canadian employers

Safely help your employees return to the workplace with Wello.

As the Canadian economy continues reopening amidst COVID-19, businesses face many new challenges and considerations in safely welcoming their employees back to their physical workplace. Many employees also have concerns about returning to their workplaces while keeping themselves, their families, and their coworkers safe and healthy.

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On this page: 

  1. Review of the employer’s duty of care: Workplace health and safety
  2. Return to work considerations: What to consider, when to implement
  3. Downloadable workplace posters and other resources
  4. Empower employees: Return to work information and resources

Important notice: The recommendations provided herein were developed based upon information released by public health authorities at the time. The recommendations are not inclusive of every possible guideline or consideration. Understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic and circumstances in communities across Canada are evolving quickly, please ensure that you review and comply with local guidance and those outlined by public health authorities.

Review the employers duty of care: Workplace health and safety

According to the standards set forth in the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Canadian employers have a duty to ensure that the health and safety of every person employed by the employer is protected while they are working. This can be achieved by complying with the guidelines of the Canadian Labour Code.

Amidst today’s unprecedented circumstance, compliance with the regulations outlined by government and industry specific guidelines are more important –and more complex– than ever before.

A first step to developing and ultimately executing a responsible return to work plan is to clearly understand your obligations as an employer. Government and health authority websites will provide the full detail of these responsibilities.

When it comes to the operation of a work space amidst an ongoing pandemic, some important considerations include the employers obligation to provide:

  • safe entry to, exit from and occupancy of the workplace;
  • employees with the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure their health and safety at work;
  • every person granted access to the workplace, with the prescribed safety materials, equipment, devices and clothing and ensure that every person is familiar with, and uses them;
  • ensuring that the activities of every person granted access to the workplace do not endanger the health and safety of employees; and
  • complying with every oral or written direction given to the employer by a health and safety officer or an appeals officer.

Return to the Physical Workspace Considerations: What to consider, when to implement

As provinces plan to reopen various sectors of the economy, business owners are being faced with the decision to open their doors amidst the altered circumstance of the ongoing pandemic, or to remain closed until an undisclosed date and time when the virus presents a reduced threat to public health and safety.

This decision for business owners to reopen their doors must include a hard look at the ability of each workspace to ensure the health and safety of employees and the public. Some tips that might help employers when building their return to work plan whether they are planning on returning to the office or staying remote include:

  • Commit to organizational transitions​
  • Facilitate remote/digital work environment​
  • Strengthen a culture of inclusion​
  • Be authentic and learn from your employees​
  • Be prepared for increased work-from-home demand
Webinar - Business Strategies during COVID19

Tips sheet: Health and safety considerations while building your return to work plan

In this tips sheet, our team of Wello workplace health and safety experts outlined top considerations for employers as they build their return to work plan.

Download

Prepare protocols: Plan, prevent, respond

Once an employer has made the decision to reopen their workplace, the next step to ensuring a healthy and safe return to the workplace is to conduct an assessment of hazards within each workspace. 

It is important to note that all planning and preventive action must take into consideration government and public health guidance, workplace health and safety policies and the employer’s duty of care to employees.  

The following are some best practices and common areas of risk within the workplace to keep in mind when developing protocols for your workplace.  

Cleaning best practices

Disinfecting and cleaning of surfaces in public or common work spaces is critical to managing the spread of diseases such as COVID-19. Here are some helpful tips and information to ensure best practices for cleaning in your workplace:

  • Choose products that clean and disinfect all at once
  • Use only approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN)
  • Workspace supervisors should develop or review protocols and procedures for cleaning public spaces
  • Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products
  • Use damp cleaning methods (i.e. damp clean cloths, a wet mop)
  • Avoid dusting or sweeping as this can distribute virus droplets into the air
  • Surfaces that are frequently touched with hands should be cleaned and disinfected more often
  • Shared spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms should be cleaned more often

To ensure all employees are informed of cleaning best practices, develop and distribute cleaning and disinfection protocols that are specific to your workplace.

Common areas of risk in the workplace

As the requirements for the operation of a healthy and safe workplace will vary depending on a multitude of factors, it is important to consider the specifics of your workplace when developing responsible health and safety protocols. Included here are some common areas of risk found in many Canadian workplaces, and recommendations on things to consider when developing health and safety protocols.

Entries and exits

  • Post accessible signage with workplace health and safety protocols (e.g. hand washing, mask wearing, and other procedures to be followed) 
  • Post accessible signage to encourage adequate social distance (2 meters) 
  • Identify separate doors for entry and exit wherever possible 
  • Provide hand sanitizer or hand washing supplies at both entries and exits 

Elevators

  • Restrict occupant capacity to reduce crowding 
  • Post accessible signage to encourage adequate social distance (2 meters) 
  • Avoid touching your face after pushing the button   
  • Wash hands with soap or sanitize your hands before and after riding the elevator 
  • When possible, take the stairs or wait for the next elevator if there are other people present 

Meeting rooms and other confined spaces

  • Restrict occupant capacity to reduce crowding 
  • Encourage unidirectional travel in narrow spaces 
  • Post accessible signage to encourage adequate social distance (2 meters) 
  • Install physical separations between individuals (e.g. plexiglass windows) 
  • Optimize ventilation wherever possible (e.g. open windows) 
  • Post accessible signage discouraging physical contact (e.g. handshakes) 
  • In spaces that require close proximity, establish a way to manage the flow of people to maintain distance 

Communal spaces

  • Restrict occupant capacity to reduce crowding 
  • Post accessible signage to indicate the max number of occupants at one time 
  • Provide cleaning products and post cleaning procedures  
  • Increase frequency of cleaning, especially of high touch surfaces or equipment 
  • Remove any seating that does not allow adequate social distance (2 meters) 
  • Reduce the number of common surfaces that need to be touched  
  • Restrict access to non-essential shared equipment 
  • Clean according to cleaning best practices before and after every shift 

Washrooms

  • Increase frequency of cleaning 
  • Encourage unidirectional travel with entrances and when inside the washroom 
  • Post accessible signage to encourage adequate social distance (2 meters) 
  • Install no-touch systems (e.g. automated toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers) 

Accommodating employees’ refusal to return to the workplace

With the variety of challenges that are facing both employers and employees during this unique time, it will be important to develop appropriate plans of action should employees refuse to return to the workplace.  

Depending on industry, work environments and workforce demographics, employers should develop protocols that address each unique scenario. Some possible situations to consider when planning for employees’ refusal to return to the workplace include:  

  • Employees or their families maybe be afraid to return to the workplace 
  • Childcare or other obligations that have been altered by the current situations might limit employees ability to return to the workplace 
  • Compromised immunity or employees at high risk might be advised by their healthcare team to refuse to return to the workplace 

When handling employee refusals to return to the workplace it will be important to act within clear and consistent guidelines that align with the parameters set forth by local authorities as well as occupational health and safety regulators.  

Responding to symptomatic employees

It is well understood by health authorities that those who are infected with COVID-19 may have little to no symptoms. Similarly, it may take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear after exposure and recent evidence indicates that the virus can be transmitted to others from someone who is infected but not showing symptoms. As such, it is important to develop and enforce protocols for all employees and members of the public who visit your workplace.  

If an employee shows symptoms of COVID-19, proactive measures should be taken to avoid potential spread of the virus. Recommended measure include:  

  • Immediately reduce the employees contact with others 
  • Safely remove them from the workplace and ask that they return immediately home  
  • Ask that they call a local public health authority, communicate the symptoms and follow any further instructions 
  • Identify a space where employees or clients can be isolated from others if they develop symptoms and are not able to leave the facility 
  • Before returning to the workplace, employees should consult with their healthcare providers and wait until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met 
  • Employees who have come into contact with a sick person should notify their supervisor and follow recommended precautions from local health authorities 

As the employer, it is important to ensure that all employees are aware of workplace protocols and empowered to act swiftly should they start experiencing symptoms. To do so, employers can consider these additional measures: 

  • Strengthen communication of COVID-19 protocols and prevention strategies with employees, clients and customers 
  • Adjust personal and sick leave policies to enable employees to stay home when ill, undergoing COVID-19 testing, in quarantine, or taking care of dependents who are ill 
  • Post signage to discourage anyone who is ill from entering the workplace 

Empower employees: Return to work information and resources

As the frontline workers of your business, employee involvement in the healthy and safe return to work is crucial. To protect your team, their families and the broader community, empower employees with the following information and resources.

Preventative health and safety tips

Government and health authorities across Canada and around the world have produced tips and resources pages aimed specifically at educating the public on best practices for avoiding the spread of diseases like COVID-19. In addition to reviewing and sharing those resources as appropriate to your workplace, here are some common considerations for employers reopening physical places of work in Canada.

Cleaning best practices

Disinfecting and cleaning of surfaces in public or common work spaces is critical to managing the spread of diseases such as COVID-19. Here are some helpful tips and information to ensure best practices for cleaning in your workplace:

  • Choose products that clean and disinfect all at once
  • Use only approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN)
  • Workspace supervisors should develop or review protocols and procedures for cleaning public spaces
  • Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products
  • Use damp cleaning methods (i.e. damp clean cloths, a wet mop)
  • Avoid dusting or sweeping as this can distribute virus droplets into the air
  • Surfaces that are frequently touched with hands should be cleaned and disinfected more often
  • Shared spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms should be cleaned more often

To ensure all employees are informed of cleaning best practices, develop and distribute cleaning and disinfection protocols that are specific to your workplace.

How to wear a mask

Non-medical masks (fabric masks) can be used by the general public in areas where many people may have infection, or where recommended distance measures cannot be upheld.

Steps to putting on a mask:

  1. Clean hands with soap and water or alcohol based hand rub
  2. Inspect your clean mask to ensure it is not damaged or dirty
  3. Place the mask on your face covering your nose, mouth and chin
  4. Make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask
  5. To avoid contamination, do not touch the mask while wearing it

To remove a mask, clean hands again before and after removing the mask.

It is important to note that the recommendations on wearing medical masks differ from the above. To learn more about the different kinds of masks and recommendations for wearing of each, consult a government or health authority website like the World Health Organization.

How to wash your hands

According to guidelines set by the government of Canada, a thorough hand washing should follow each of the following steps:

  1. Wet hands with warm water
  2. Apply soap
  3. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds (including palms, back of each hand, between fingers, thumbs and under nails)
  4. Rinse well
  5. Dry hands well with a paper towel
  6. Turn off the tap using a paper towel

For employees working in physical contact with others or in close proximity, it is recommended that hand washing occur:

  • When entering the worksite
  • Before and after coming into contact with shared items like tools or equipment
  • Before and after eating
  • After using washrooms
  • Before leaving the worksite

Take care of mental health

When coping with the strange and often unsettling circumstances of the ongoing pandemic, it can be helpful to practice positive coping strategies such as:

  • Deep breathing
  • Mindfulness
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Self-care

If at home coping strategies prove ineffective, or when symptoms begin to impact one’s ability to complete daily tasks or activities, it may be time to seek professional help. Visit the Wellness Together Canada website and get connected to mental health, resources, and counselling with a mental health professional. Additionally, Wello’s team of clinicians acts as the first step in a treatment plan when a patient presents Mental Health concerns. Contact us today to learn more about how Wello can support employees in their journey.

feeling overwhelmed

Tips sheet: Managing mental health during COVID-19

It’s normal for situations like isolation, social distancing and self-quarantine to affect mental health. Everyone will experience these events in their own way. In this tips sheet, our Wello mental health experts outline simple at home coping strategies.

Download
Protect yourself

To ensure the safety of your workforce, it is important that both employers and employees alike are clear on the precautions they should take to protect themselves from the virus. Precautions to be considered include:

  • Ensuring social distancing
  • Wear a non-medical mask
  • Wash hands
  • Avoid contact
  • Cover a cough of sneeze

Tips sheet: Protect against COVID-19

When making efforts to prevent the spread of viral infection in the workplace, it’s important to educate employees on important precautions. As a free digital or printout resource, this tips sheet helps to spread the message about important measures for protection.

Download

Government Resources

When considering the appropriate measures to take when planning the return to work for your workplace it’s important to keep in mind both health and safety recommendations put forth by local authorities, as well as recommendations specific to industry and work environment.

The following are some helpful resources from both national and provincial authorities.

National Resources:

Resources by Province:

Webinars

Throughout the developing global pandemic, our team of Wello health experts have developed a series of informative webinars aimed at helping employers and their employees to manage the physical, mental and emotional challenges of the pandemic culture. Topics discussed in the COVID-19 webinar series include:

  • Return to work and life
  • Mental health resilience during resurgence
  • Diet and fitness strategies
  • Managing anxiety and isolation
  • Business in the age of COVID-19

To browse all webinars, visit our COVID-19 webinar series web page.

Wello’s Return to Workplace Assessment Tool for Businesses

Learn more about Wello’s Return To Workplace screening tool providing:

Simple screening aligned to public health guidelines
Daily manager reporting on team members by location
Easy access to clinical support when required

Contact us