Considerations on the Road to Return to “Normal”

04. May 2020 0

Provinces throughout Canada are now creating plans for a gradual resumption of activities.  British Columbia’s plan is expected to be released this week.  Now is the time to begin thinking about what that looks like for your workplace.  You can expect that the resumption of activities will happen in stages and will continue to require restrictions and measures be put in place to safeguard workers and prevent against the spread of COVID-19.  Employers need to consider what measures they will put in place to adhere to hygiene and sanitation standards and to maintain physical distancing as required.

Employers should begin planning now to be ready to resume operations as quickly as possible.  The resumption of work will not be a return to normal, but rather will require employers to be creative, adaptive and proactive.  Employers will have to be vigilant about remaining compliant with public health requirements and focused on employee health and safety.  Until a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available we will all have to continue implementing certain measures to protect the health and safety of workers in the workplace.  Employers will have to stay informed about public health recommendations to comply with their obligation to ensure the safety of their workers.  To prepare for the gradual resumption of activities, employers should start thinking of the following:

  1. Physical space – there are a variety of challenges that employers will face in the physical workplace.  Employers should take the time now to strategize how they will deal with the following issues:
  • Workplace hygiene – having sufficient availability of handwashing facilities as well as sanitizing supplies.
  • Client/customer meetings – how will interaction with clients/customers be handled to ensure the safety of employees and maintenance of physical distancing recommendations?
  • Scheduling to allow physical distancing – the gradual resumption of activities will likely require employers to consider how they stagger attendance at the workplace to allow for ongoing physical distancing.
  • Common areas – how will common areas be controlled to ensure that physical distancing is maintained?
  • Shared building – employers in a shared building will need to coordinate with building management to ensure that physical distancing is facilitated in common areas such as elevators and lobbies.
  • Masks – what role will masks have in ensuring the safety of employees either while exiting/entering the building or while in common areas of the workplace?
  • Cleaning – enhanced cleaning will be necessary to assist with ensuring the safety of employees and those visiting the workplace.
  • Process for dealing with employees displaying symptoms – not every cough, sniffle, sneeze and fever are COVID-19 but what the pandemic has shown us is that anyone exhibiting any symptoms of a cold or flu should not be in the workplace.  Employers should consider putting in place a policy prohibiting symptomatic employees from being physically present in the workplace and will need to consider both how that policy is enforced as well as whether employees who have been excluded from the workplace will be paid while excluded or whether measures can be put in place to facilitate working remotely for those employees with mild symptoms.
  • Process for dealing with employees who are fearful or refusing to return to the physical workspace – employers should anticipate that members of their workforce may be fearful to return to the physical workspace due to the ongoing presence of COVID-19 in our community, the lack of a vaccine or the lack of treatment options for those suffering from COVID-19.  The fear of returning to the physical workspace may be as a result of having to take public transit to attend work.  Employers should consider what measures can be put in place to provide employees with the confidence that they will be safe at the physical workspace and what measures can be put in place to either eliminate the need for public transit or allay fears through provision of safety measures for those that have no option but to utilize public transit.
  • Continued remote working – the gradual resumption of work activities will not immediately be a return to pre COVID-19 operations, rather there will be in many industries ongoing remote working at least on a part time basis.  Employers should consider how they can facilitate ongoing part time remote working and should implement policies and procedures to ensure that remote working remains effective.

It is anticipated that resources and guidelines will be available for British Columbia companies resuming operations.  Those resources and guidelines will likely be from the province, the BC Centre for Disease Control and WorkSafe BC.   Compliance with all directives and guidelines will be an important part of the resumption of activities.

This update was authored by Rose Keith, QC. Looking for more information on developments regarding the evolving COVID-19 pandemic? Contact Rose at rkeith@harpergrey.com or anyone else listed on the authors page.