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COVID-19 Outbreak And Its Potential Impact On Places Of Employment

Mar 13 2020

The new coronavirus disease, now officially named COVID-19, has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. A pandemic, in WHO terms, is ‘the worldwide spread of a disease’. It’s still unclear how severe the virus is, and how far it may spread. But as the virus has the potential to affect many countries, it’s likely to pose a significant challenge to individuals and organizations.

This has led to much concern for management and employees about how the COVID-19 outbreak may impact places of employment. To help address that, we have prepared the following article that seeks to explain what is currently known about the virus and gives suggestions on how an organization may respond to the virus and support its employees by being prepared, looking after their collective health and safety, taking precautions for employees returning from travel and developing flexible resourcing plans.

Note this article is intended to be informative but not authoritative and includes recommendations that an organization might implement internally, as well as including actions to be considered for both work and home. Due to the time sensitive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing development, the information provided in this article should be considered current as of blog post date and may not be valid or applicable after that.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-Cov). The official name for this new disease, not previously seen in humans, is COVID-19. It was first identified in Wuhan City, in Hubei province, China.

COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to flu, where there is close contact between people. If someone with the virus coughs or exhales and is within a metre of someone else, the other person could catch it by breathing in droplets of infected fluid. People can also catch it by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

The incubation period of COVID-19 is between two and 14 days. Common signs of infection include a cough, difficulty in breathing and a fever. Most people infected with the virus have mild symptoms and recover, but some experience more serious illness and may need hospital care. People over 40 seem to be more vulnerable, as are those with weakened immune systems or an underlying health condition such as diabetes, heart or lung disease.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has assessed the public health risk associated with COVID-19 as low for Canada. Public health risk is continually reassessed as new information becomes available.

These are some basic but effective ways to help prevent the infection’s spread:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Avoid shaking hands with suppliers, clients and customers.

Stay Informed and Be Prepared

The level of risk any organization might face depends on whether one or more of its employees have travelled back, or been in contact with, anyone who has returned from an area affected by the virus. This means organizations should ensure that employees are aware of not just their own activities but also what their immediate family members, friends and extended family members have been doing recently and/or where they may have travelled. In addition to making sure everyone keeps close tabs on these activities, there are a number of measures that an organization should also consider implementing:

  • Keep up to date with government and public health advice. This is a fast-moving issue. Places of employment, large or small, should be doing their utmost to stay on top of the situation as it develops and refer employees who are concerned about infection to official and expert medical sources such as the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
  • Develop a contingency plan. As the situation develops, organizations will need to assess their own level of exposure and/or threat to possible business disruption caused by the virus. This will be a fluid plan and will need to take account of current and potential impacts and risks associated with any foreseen disruption, including service delivery to clients and workforce issues. Ensure the plan is communicated to key teams and individuals across the business. Also, as the situation develops, those responsible for any contingency plan should meet to review the preparations and ensure they are still fit for purpose.

Look After People’s Health, Well-being and Safety

During this situation, the health, safety and well-being of every employee should be paramount for every organization. As such, every business should be proactively doing its best to protect everyone within the organization to minimize the risk of the virus coming into the workplace and/or spreading any further.

An employee who thinks he or she may have been exposed to COVID-19 should immediately self-quarantine, contact their healthcare provider and then follow up with their department manager or supervisor to advise of the possible exposure so that ensuring safety measures can be considered.

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