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Back to Work: Successfully Navigating Employees Back to Work – Practical and Legal Considerations

With much of Ontario now in “Stage 2” of its emergence from the COVID-19 lockdown, and Toronto Mayor John Tory optimistic that the City will follow suit, we wanted to provide an update to our May 18th blog in which we addressed some considerations for employers as they re-open their businesses and transition their employees back to work.

Re-opening Protocol

Hopefully employers have taken some time over the past few months to consider how they can resume business as seamlessly as possible.

Practical Considerations

Obviously the first step for any employer seeking to re-open is to verify that their business is eligible to re-open under the schedule provided by the Ontario government. If it is, Employers must then refer to and implement the Ontario government’s safety guidelines for their type of workplace. This might include taking measures like setting up “spit screens” in areas where employees interact with the public and or placing stickers on the floor in order to facilitate social distancing.

Recalling Employees

Once employers have determined that they are permitted to re-open and have considered the government’s safety guidelines, they can begin to recall employees.

Employers should contact employees requesting that they return to work on a specified date. They should be provided with enough notice to allow them to make any necessary arrangements to facilitate their return to work.

Employees must be returned to the same role they performed prior to leaving work

Employers should provide health and safety training to returning employees to ensure that the government’s safety guidelines are followed. Communication should be open and ongoing, with employees encouraged to report any concerns about workplace health and safety as well as any concerns that they might have contracted the virus. Any COVID-19 diagnoses must be reported, and the appropriate guidelines followed.

Legal Considerations

While many employees will be happy to return to work, others might be unwilling or unable to go back.

Health & Safety Concerns

Employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and employees have the right to refuse to work if they have reason to believe that the work environment is unsafe. If you are an employer who has implemented the government’s safety guidelines and has communicated these measures to an employee who still refuses to return to work due to alleged safety concerns, we urge you to contact us.

Childcare Responsibilities & Other Challenges

Although childcare facilities have begun to re-open, some employees may be unable to return to work because they must care for their children as they have been unable to find practical solutions. We remind employers that they have a duty to accommodate and may not discriminate against workers due to their family status.

Moreover, the government of Ontario recently enacted the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave in order to provide job protection for employees unable to work because they must “provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure”. This legislation also protects employees who are:

  • under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19,
  • acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act,
  • in isolation or quarantine in accordance with public health information or direction, or
  • prevented from returning to Ontario due to travel restrictions.

As you re-open your business and navigate your employees back to work, you might encounter these or other challenges. But we are here to help. If you have any questions about COVID-19 and your workplace, please contact us at contact@minken.com or call us at 905-477-7011.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. Sign up for our newsletter to receive up-to-date COVID-19 information, including new legislation and Court decisions impacting your workplace.

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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