New Ontario Government Guidelines for Mandatory COVID-19 Workplace Screening

mandatory covid-19 screening at workplaces

On September 25, 2020 the Ontario government announced a new amendment to of O. Reg 364/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 3 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (the “Amendment”).

This amendment now requires all Ontario workplaces to conduct a screening for all employees upon arriving at their workplaces, to evaluate the risk of COVID-19 for workers prior to entering their place of work. This requirement came into effect September 26, 2020.

These screenings are in addition to employers’ ongoing obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and complementary obligations from local by-laws such as indoor mandatory face coverings in Toronto. Read on to learn more about screening and best practices.

What questions are required in the screening?

The Ontario government has outlined the minimum questions to be asked of all employees, but more could be added to cater to unique contexts in specific workplaces. In conjunction with the amendment to the Regulations, the Ministry of Health issued a “Screening Tool” to be used by employers and it is comprised of the following questions:

  1. Do you have any of the following new or worsening symptoms or signs? Symptoms should not be chronic or related to other known causes or conditions.
    • Fever or chills
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Cough
    • Sore throat, trouble swallowing
    • Runny nose/stuffy nose or nasal congestion
    • Decrease or loss of smell or taste
    • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
    • Not feeling well, extreme tiredness, sore muscles
  2. Have you traveled outside of Canada in the past 14 days?
  3. Have you had close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19?

The screening tool states that if an employee answers “no” to questions 1-3, they have passed and are able to enter their workplace. If the individual answers “yes” to any questions from 1-3, they have not passed and should not be permitted to enter the workplace. Employees are advised to return home, self-isolate and contact their health care provider or Telehealth Ontario (1 866-797-0000) to determine if they require a COVID-19 test.

Who do employers need to screen?

The mandatory screening requirements apply to all employees and “essential visitors” who enter a workplace, which includes staff, students, volunteers and contractors. It does not include patrons of the workplace or emergency personnel entering a workplace to provide emergency services.

How should the screening be conducted?

The screening should take place before a worker enters the workplace or upon their arrival.

There has not been any specific guidance on whether the screening should be conducted orally, written or electronically, and the best approach is likely for employers to cater administration of the screening to the specific features of their workplace. There has been no specific guidance on record-keeping requirements, or how the results of these screenings should be kept and for how long.

Best Practices for COVID-19 Screening in Workplaces 

In designing and implementing a COVID-19 screening procedure, employers should:
  • Adopt a policy that explains clearly and unequivocally what is required of employees, and the consequences of both a positive screening result and a refusal to comply.
  • Ensure screening subjects understand why the screening is necessary, how the information will be used and protected, and where they can direct questions about screening.
  • Obtain consent where necessary before administering screening.
  • Design the screening process with infection control protocols in mind.
  • Ensure proper training for those administering screening.
  • Design the screening process with the employee’s privacy and dignity in mind.
  • Balance the intrusiveness of the screening method with the sensitivity of the workplace to COVID-19 exposure.
  • Restrict questions in self-assessments about an employee’s symptoms or activities to those which are relevant to COVID-19 transmission risk.
  • Ensure screening applies equally to all employees and ensure adequate screening or infection control protocols are in place for non-employees. To do otherwise undermines the effectiveness and reasonableness of a screening program.

If you have any questions about screening, other COVID-19 related issues, or if you require any employment assistance, we offer a 30-minute free consultation with a licensed legal professional and you can also check-out out our COVID-19 page.

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