Q: What can we do with an employee if we think they have the virus?
A: If an employee is returning from a high-risk area, or if the employee is exhibiting symptoms of the virus, the employer can require the employee not to return to work until the employee has been quarantined for 14 days without any symptoms. In some cases there may also be a requirement to provide proof of a negative test or other medical documentation proving he/she does not have the virus.
If an employee has traveled from an affected area such as China or Italy, you can require them to not return to work until they receive medical documentation proving they do not have the virus.
For employees required to quarantine themselves, there is a job-protected unpaid leave of absence recently passed by a Government of Alberta Regulation. There are also provincial and federal benefits for employees who are quarantined for COVID-19.
Recommendation: Employers should review which of their employees already have vacation time booked. Employees should be encouraged to observe travel advisories and can be required to observe government travel restrictions. Employees should be told that they will have to observe a 14-day quarantine period before returning to work after any out-of-country travel.
Q: Can an employee refuse to work for fear of catching the virus?
A: An employee can refuse to work if there is a legitimate potential safety hazard that cannot be mitigated in the workplace. An employee cannot refuse to work because they are generally nervous about the virus out in the community. If there is a legitimate threat that can potentially be a safety hazard - such as the dealership being in an area of a significant outbreak or another employee of the dealership having Coronavirus - then employees can refuse to work.
A: If an employee suspects one of their coworkers is showing symptoms of the virus, that may be a legitimate safety hazard. In that situation, you have an obligation to act reasonably to determine if the employee is telling the truth, if they are exaggerating, if steps can be taken to minimize any risks, etc. If you find the sick employee does seem to be exhibiting symptoms, you would likely need to send that employee home. You can require the symptomatic employee to stay home until he or she has served any required quarantine (usually 14 days). In some cases, you might also require proof of a negative test/other medical documentation to show they do not have the virus.
Q: Are forward/customer-facing positions dealing with the public a safety risk?
A: No, the fact that employees are interacting with the public does not constitute a health and safety risk.
Q: Can an employer require an employee to provide test results if they have not been travelling to a high risk area?
A: No, if employees have not traveled to a high-risk area and are not exhibiting symptoms of the virus, you cannot ask for test results. Given the current crisis, it is difficult to get tested, so there must be a good reason in order to get a test in the first place. You may be able to require a quarantine though for symptoms, recent travel, or other high-risk circumstances (e.g., living with some who has the virus).
Q: Are employees allowed to wear gloves and masks in the workplace?
A: Within reason, employers are generally allowed to direct what employees wear at work. It may be reasonable for employees to wear gloves and masks if they are working in close proximity to other people. If an employee is uncomfortable remaining at work without gloves or a mask, the employee might choose to stay home instead, which would be on an unpaid basis.
Q: What are our responsibilities if someone is found to be infected with the virus?
A: As part of your COVID-19 policy or communications to employees, designate a specific individual as the contact person for COVID-19. Communicate with employees regarding a contact person in the event they contract COVID-19 or become aware they have come into close contact with someone with COVID-19. When an employee contracts COVID-19, Alberta Health Services is likely to ask for a contact number for the employee’s workplace. If your employees know who to identify to the public health authorities, you are more likely to be contacted quickly and will gain valuable time in your response.
You may be advised of a positive result by your employee or the public health authorities. Confirm you have complete and accurate information from your employee and/or the public health authorities. If speaking directly with your employee, confirm whether Alberta Health Services or their health provider has advised the employee has tested positive or is presumed positive.
Offer any resources to your employee that are available through the workplace (such as an Employee Assistance Program, etc.). Your employee may be under stress and need support.
The employee would need to self-isolate and not be allowed to come to the workplace. The employee would not be allowed to return until recovered from COVID-19 and permitted by health authorities to return. Individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 may be required to self-isolate until they have a follow up test(s) and test negative. However, not everyone will be tested. For example, some confirmed positives will not receive follow-up testing. In some cases, individual are not tested but are presumed positive because of close household contact with a confirmed case. Other examples will exist. We understand that the current guidance from Alberta Health Services is for an individual to continue to self-isolate until they have tested negative or until 10 days after their symptoms end. Ensure that your employee remains off work for at least 14 days total, at least 10 days after symptoms resolve, or any other period specifically recommended by Alberta Health Services or the employee’s health provider. Be aware that staying home for 14 days may not be enough for an employee who contracts COVID-19 and encourage employees to work with Alberta Health Services and their health care provider to determine when it is safe to come back to work.
You would need to observe any Alberta Health Services requirements in respect to that employee, other employees, and the dealership itself.
Q: What do we do with the remainder of the staff if someone is found to be infected with the virus?
A: Generally, you would follow any directions or advice from Alberta Health Services. You may need to require other employees to stay away from work. Such employees might be entitled to sick leave or short-term disability, depending on your policies; otherwise they would be covered by the new provincial or federal benefits.
First, you should complete a hazard assessment to determine the risk to your workplace and employees. Identify the date on which the employee tested positive and/or the date their symptoms first developed. Identify when the employee was in the workplace in the 14 days prior to the positive test and the areas of the office where they were physically present so that these areas can be sanitized immediately by a qualified professional. Identify the co-workers the employee had ‘close contact’ with prior to being quarantined. Close contact in the employment context means working in close quarters (within 2 metres) with someone while they were infectious, or being in direct contact with that persons’ bodily fluids due to their coughing and/or sneezing.
Once close contacts have been identified, the employer should contact those employees and advise them that it is believed that they worked in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. In order to protect the workplace, the employer should request that the employees self-isolate for 14 days and contact Alberta Health Link at 811 if they develop symptoms. Expect that Alberta Health Services may also be reaching out to close contacts to advise them of a potential exposure to COVID-19.
Employers will need to consider whether a temporary closure of all or part of the workplace may be required in order to protect employees, ensure self-isolation of the necessary employees, and or complete a thorough cleaning of the office. Assess what additional sterilization or cleaning of the workplace is required.
Where appropriate, advise employees in the same workplace who did not have close contact with the positive employee to self-monitor for symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and to self-isolate and call 811 if they develop any symptoms.
Q: Can we disclose the name of someone who shows symptoms or has tested positive?
A: When responding to a positive case of COVID-19, employers should be careful not to disclose the identity of an individual who tests positive for the virus. Should this disclosure be necessary to protect other employees or the workplace generally, it is possible that disclosure would be permitted under section 17(i) of the Personal Information Protection Act.
Make sure you are acting on accurate information. If you incorrectly disclose an employee has the virus, you can incur liability.
Q: Can we ask employees who have not traveled, but their family has traveled to China in the last 3 months, for test results?
A: If you have information that an employee’s family member has traveled to an affected area you need to find out:
a) if they have been in contact with your employee and
b) if family members have received any positive test results or have any symptoms. If your employee says they have been in contact with someone who is exhibiting symptoms, this is enough evidence for you to require the employee to self-isolate and possibly get tested. The employee can return to work upon completing a quarantine period or providing evidence of a negative test result or a medical clearance to return to work.
The fact that family members have been travelling is not enough to ask for testing. You need to establish your employee has been interacting with a family member who was travelling to a high-risk area, one with a significant outbreak.
Q: Can employees easily and quickly access COVID-19 doctors tests and results?
A: Testing resources are currently under heavy use. Results are currently being provided within about 5 days.
Q: Are you familiar with a fee involved with doctor’s office testing?
A: Testing is being handled by Alberta Health Services at designated sites. There is not currently a fee, but not everyone can get a test just because they want one.
Q: Service advisor has asked if he can refuse to serve a customer who is exhibiting symptoms.
A: Your employee can refuse to serve a customer to who is exhibiting symptoms, the same as refusing to interact with a fellow employee exhibiting symptoms. You may want to train your staff in how to handle the issue should it arise or implement a point of contact in order to resolve the issue without loss to business or future relationships.
Q: Are you required to pay an employee who voluntarily stays home until testing negative for the virus?
A: No you are not. This situation may also be a situation where you can impose disciplinary action. The situation needs to be clarified further to make sure there are no other reasons to this voluntary absence in order to impose disciplinary actions. Given the heightened sensitivities at present and the risk of negative publicity and social media, caution should be exercised before disciplining an employee who wants to stay home because of health concerns. The safer course is to simply let the person stay home on an unpaid leave.
Q: Can a dealer be held liable if an employee thinks he or she has contracted the virus from inside a customer’s vehicle in-house being serviced?
A: No, provided that the employer was not aware of the fact that the customer with the vehicle had the virus. However, this would likely be a WCB issue anyway. If there was liability, it would likely be under Occupational Health and Safety.
Q: Can we put signs up asking customers who have traveled to infected areas to reschedule their visits to the dealership to a later date?
A: Yes, you can do this. You should consider having one point of access into the dealership and consider having someone at the front door screening people to see if they are exhibiting symptoms.
Q: Can you ask a customer to obtain a test and share the results with your employees?
A: You can ask; however, the customer is under no obligation to do that. If the customer does acquire a test and is found to be positive, you would need to be careful about disclosing the customer’s name to employees. You would need to inform employees who had contact with the customer so that they might self-isolate if necessary (see answer above for when an employee tests positive). The customer would need to stay away from the dealership until they have recovered.
Q: Can you post literature about what procedures you require upon entering your business?
A: Yes, you can ask for procedures and processes to be followed while conducting business within your dealership. Requirements should be reasonable.
Q: Because of the constant spread of the pandemic, how do we define high risk areas?
A: The World Health Organization website has that listed, as do other Canadian sources. If you receive the information from a credible news source and base your decision off legitimate information, you will not be faulted for that.
Q: Do we have grounds for termination should an employee lie about having the virus?
A: If you have a situation where you can prove that your employee lied to you about being positive, but was actually negative, or lied to you about being positive, when actually negative, this can be grounds for termination with just cause.
Q: How do you recommend we deal with an employee who may be too paranoid and is spraying his work area with chemicals or leaving mothballs around the work area.
A: An employee wiping down the workstation with disinfecting wipes daily is considered reasonable to protect the employee and coworkers. If an employee is acting in an unreasonable manner, you need to have a conversation with that employee. If the employee insists upon unreasonable behaviour, the employee may be required to stay home and you would not necessarily be required to pay them. You must be very clear that the employee has a choice; stop acting in this manner or stay at home in an unpaid manner.
If you know the employee has a mental disability or comes in with a doctor’s note stating that there is a mental health issue, you will want to know this information so you can ask for follow up before the employee returns to work to make sure the doctor feels the employee is able to do so.
Q: If we send an employee home under suspicion of infection and there is a delay in being tested, do we have to pay them for the time off if the test comes back negative?
A: You should treat this similar to any other case of sickness or disability requiring evidence that an employee is safe to return to work. If the suspicions are reasonable, you would not likely be required to pay the employee, other than applicable sick leave or short-term disability. If your suspicions are based on weak grounds and the employee does not have the virus, you may be required to pay the employee for the time held out from work.
Q: If a business needs to close for any concerns, does the employer have to pay the employees?
A: If you close all operations, you would need to look at employee layoffs. Layoffs under the Employment Standards Code are subject to 1 week of notice or pay in lieu of notice for employees employed less than 2 years, 2 weeks of notice or pay in lieu of notice for employees employed for 2 years or more, or as soon as practicable if unforeseeable circumstances make it impossible to give 1 or 2 weeks’ notice (e.g., in a mandatory shut-down for medical reasons).
Q: If a second employee tests positive in the workplace and has reason to believe they contracted the disease while at work, would it be a WCB case?
A: Yes, it could be considered to be a workplace disease/injury/event. This is yet to be determined.
If you have someone who tested positive and you as an employer did not take appropriate action and precautions in the workplace to prevent the spread to other people or not inform your employees of the situation, this could be seen as an Occupational Health and Safety violation.
Q: If a customer tests positive and then an employee is found to test positive, can this be considered a WCB case?
A: There is a very real possibility this could be considered a WCB case, it is not certain at this point.
Q: If an employee tests negative, can you utilize their paid sick or floater days to cover for the absence?
A: If the employee wants to utilize them then yes. Eligibility will depend on your sick leave or short-term disability policy. If the employee prefers, time off for testing could be treated as an unpaid leave.
Q: If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 would they be able to collect EI while absent?
A: Provided they have the insurable earnings built up, they would be able to collect EI benefits. The Government of Canada has expanded the EI program to provide coverage for benefits even related to quarantine when someone is not actually sick.
Q: If an employee tests positive, how long must we keep the position open and what happens if they don’t return in 6 months or more?
A: If the employee is not able to return to work due to a medical issue the employer must leave that position open for them to return to, unless you receive documentation from their doctor stating they are not able to return to work now or in the future.
In Alberta, employees are entitled to 16 weeks of unpaid leave for illness or injury, during which time they cannot be terminated or laid off.
Another person can temporarily fill the position while the employee is off; however, the employer usually has to allow the employee to the position if and when they are able to.
Q: Do you recommend employers develop a pandemic policy?
A: Yes, it can be very helpful. It is a good idea to implement policies for such things as COVID-19. Just be sure to have the policy vetted to ensure it is legally compliant with Employment Standards and human rights legislation.
Q: Has the government mandated what an employer is required to do if an employee has tested positive?
A: The government has not mandated what an employer is required to do. However under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer has an obligation to take all reasonable steps to keep their workplace safe. If someone tests positive, they will need to self-isolate and should not be in the workplace.
Q: If a 14-day quarantine is imposed by an outside source (not the employer), does the employer need to pay for the time off?
A: No, because the employer did not impose the quarantine. It may qualify for sick leave or short-term disability.
Q: If someone is exhibiting symptoms but refuses to go home, what recourse does the employer have?
A: The employer should order the person to leave. In extreme circumstances where the person refuses, you are entitled to contact the police and inform them that there is someone refusing to leave the workplace and the employee is suspected to have the virus. Do not physically remove them yourself. You might also have grounds to terminate the employee for insubordination.
Q: If an employee tests positive and can work from home, can the employer refuse to do so and not pay them?
A: If the employee wants to work from home and can do so, you should allow it in respect to COVID-19. You would need to compensate them for such work and allow them to do so.
Q: Can an employer be held liable for not providing employees with masks?
A: No, not at this point. However an employer should be providing disinfectant soap or sanitizer at this point.
Q: Can an employer ban non-work travel for employees?
A: An employer generally cannot prohibit non-work travel, but given the current restrictions on travel, it may be possible. You can require employees who do travel to serve an unpaid quarantine period before returning to work.
Q: If the government imposes shut downs of certain services such as daycares, schools, restaurants, etc., what are our duties to our employees?
A: We have seen this happen already. If an employee needs to care for children and cannot find care or cannot afford care for the children, the employer is probably required to accommodate the employee’s needs under the Alberta Human Rights Act. This could occur in different ways, depending on what is reasonable for your organization and the employee:
- work from home;
- use vacation or banked time;
- bring children to work;
- modify shift schedules to accommodate co-parenting or family care responsibilities; and/or
- allow employees time off work on an unpaid basis.
Given the sudden loss of school and daycare options, you will likely need to be more accommodating in the short-term than over the longer term.
Q: If the employer does not have short-term disability coverage and the employee tests positive to the virus, how would they collect earnings?
A: Provided the employee has enough banked insurable hours they would be able to qualify for EI benefits.
Q: If an employee goes on a cruise after the government has warned against it can we ask for a negative test result or letter from a doctor?
A: Yes. This is unlikely now given the limitation on cruises and travel generally. The employee could be placed on a quarantine period before returning to work.
Q: If we have a staff member who has tested positive and he or she has come in contact with customers and their vehicles, do we have to notify the customers?
A: An employer is not legally obligated to inform the customer. However, Alberta Health Services officials will be contacting the infected person to find out where they were and who they came in contact with prior to testing positive (see earlier answers on this theme). At that point there is a strong possibility that the employer will have health officials calling and asking for the customer’s name and contact info so that the health officials can contact the customer.
Q: If an employer has to pay an employee for being off, is it full pay or minimum wage?
A: An employer has to pay the employee the regular earnings the employee would have earned had the employee been at work.
Q: If working from home is an option and the employee is exhibiting symptoms and has not tested positive, can we ask the employee to work from home?
Q: In the case of a paid leave for a negative test, what comprises regular earnings for commission salespeople who are unable to earn when they are not at work?
A: Generally, you would need to apply a reasonable average in order to find the appropriate earnings to be paid out.
Q: Does the employer have to pay the employee for the number of hours worked after the positive test has been proven?
A: Yes, if the employee actually worked the hours, they must be paid for the hours they worked.
Q: Now that the WHO has declared this a pandemic, does that not mean all travel is considered High-Risk?
A: No. Pandemic is a specific medical definition regarding the rate and geographic spread of a virus. It does not mean that all travel is high-risk. However, what is permissible travel continues to be constrained.
Q: Should we put up signs about not having staff shake hands?
A: An employer can do that. However, it might be better to implement this through meetings or emails and conversations with employees. Signage may be useful to encourage visitors to your dealership to sanitize their hands upon entering and leaving.