Pandemic HR: Four Return to Work Questions Answered

A few questions employers have been asking, and some brief answers.

Do employees have to inform their employer or HR if they contract COVID-19?

Yes. Create a memo or policy to send to everyone. Let them know that as part of your COVID-19 operational plan that an employee who has COVID-19 must inform the employer. The employer has a duty to let their staff know that someone in the workplace has COVID-19 and begin taking steps to prevent the spread. The employer is also to inform the Public Health Office in the jurisdiction which will work on contract tracing. Here is where the information you’ve been tracking on staff and visitors to the workplace is essential.

Can an employee refuse to return to work?

An employee who believes their workplace or job is unsafe has the right to refuse work under workers’ compensation legislation. However, if the employer can prove appropriate measures have been taken regarding cleanliness, sanitizing for virus spread prevention, spacing out workers, etc., an employer has done their due diligence. An employee who still refuses to return to work, however, may be suffering from high anxiety so employers must be careful in addressing what could be legitimate mental health concerns which could turn into a human rights issue as well. Offering virtual counseling and being in frequent communication with employees is vital to assisting employees in returning to work and/or the workplace.

Can you contact an employee who is off on sick leave?

Employers are encouraged to stay in touch with employees who are off work on sick leave. Staying in touch with employees has proven to have positive effects on return to work timelines and reintegration into the workplace. It lessens the stress for the employee, the employee is less likely to go on leave after returning to work, and the employer will feel less awkward when welcoming the employee back.

Can employers screen their employees for COVID-19?

An employer can screen employees, but there are a few precautions. Similar to drug testing, employers cannot screen or test specific employees without having reason to screen/test that individual and not all employees. If an employer wants to screen everyone every day, that is completely acceptable the majority of the time. However, if there is an employee that has had trouble before, or just isn’t liked, an employer should not treat them differently from others. An exception is if the employee is exhibiting signs or symptoms that are strong indications of illness (or drug use for example), screening that person may be acceptable. The key is to always act in ways that are logically justifiable.

Published: 2020 09 07

*Note: The information on this website is not to be taken as legal advice. If you have a situation you would like guidance on, contact a trusted and experienced advisor.