Authors: Jean Torrens, Samantha Finkbeiner
All Alberta businesses, whether they have been continuing to operate or will be resuming operations pursuant to Alberta’s relaunch strategy, are expected to develop and implement new policies and procedures to address the COVID-19 pandemic response.
On April 30, 2020, the provincial government announced Alberta’s three stage relaunch strategy. With some businesses having resumed operations on May 4, 2020, and a number of additional businesses set to re-open on May 14, 2020, the provincial government has released updated guidelines for non-health care businesses to follow when re-opening or continuing operations (the “Guidelines”). The Guidelines outline criteria that should be addressed in new COVID-19 policies, and provide additional resources for certain industries.
The Guidelines are intended to support businesses to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among employees, volunteers and customers. The Guidelines offer specific recommendations in the following areas.
Communication Related to COVID-19
Pursuant to the Guidelines, employers should:
- notify employees, volunteers and customers of the steps taken to prevent the risk of transmission of infection in the workplace and remind them of their roles;
- encourage employees and volunteers to remain up-to-date regarding COVID-19 developments;
- remind employees about social and mental health resources available to them;
- notify employees, volunteers and customers how they can mitigate risks of transmission when commuting, when at home, and when engaging in activities outside of work, including at secondary job locations;
- notify customers how to mitigate risks when shopping or conducting business in store;
- advise employees and customers who have recently travelled outside of the country they must self-isolate for 14 days;
- advise employees and customers that all non-essential international travel should be cancelled, as per the Federal Government’s travel advisory.
Sick employees and volunteers
Employers should advise employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as a cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose or sore throat, that they must stay home for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms, or until symptoms resolve, whichever takes longer. Employers should also encourage employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to complete a self-assessment on Alberta Health Services website.
Under the Guidelines, employees who attend the workplace and who become ill or who are experiencing symptoms of acute respiratory illness should be sent home and advised to self-isolate. Employers should assist such employees to find appropriate transportation home, if required. Public transit and ride sharing should be avoided if possible. Once the employee has left the workplace, all surfaces and areas the employee may have come into contact with should be cleaned and disinfected.
Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are required to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days, or until symptoms resolve, whichever takes longer. Employers may be contacted by Alberta Health Services to provide public health guidance in regard to an employee with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Employers should work cooperatively with Alberta Health Services in these circumstances.
Businesses that are permitted to operate have an obligation to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 at their workplace by providing rapid response in the event of a confirmed case, maintaining exceptional levels of hygiene, and conducting hazard assessments for all tasks carried out as part of business operations. If following a hazard assessment it is determined that the risk of transmission cannot be mitigated, employers should be prepared to cease business operations or suspend specific work tasks.
The Guidelines set out detailed recommendations in regard to the following preventative measures:
- Screening: Employers should have policies and procedures in place for active daily screening of employees, volunteers, and customers for symptoms of fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose or difficultly breathing. Anyone with symptoms should not be allowed in the workplace.
- Hygiene: Employers should promote and facilitate frequent and proper hand washing and hygiene for all employees, volunteers, and customers. The Guidelines strongly encourage businesses to provide a means to sanitize hands at all points of entry and at other locations where employees and customers handle products.
- Cleaning and disinfecting: Employers should develop and implement procedures to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting in high traffic areas, common areas, public washrooms and shower facilities as well as frequently touched items.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): When hazards cannot be completely eliminated, they should be controlled. Employers should implement the use of PPE based on risk of exposure to a pathogen considering both the risk associated with a specific task as well as the source of infection. PPE that is chosen should be appropriate to the hazard.
- Workplace bathrooms and showers: Washrooms and shower facilities must be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition. Employers should consider implementing physical distancing in these areas to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Distancing and gatherings in the workplace: Currently, gatherings of 15 or more people are prohibited in Alberta; however, this does not prevent businesses from having more than 15 employees in the workplace. Employers should support physical distancing in the workplace.
- Retail items: Businesses should develop strategies to minimize the handling of retail products prior to purchase.
- Home delivery drive-through, take-out and curbside pickup: Businesses permitted to operate may continue to offer delivery, drive-through, take-out and curbside pickup. Interactions between employees and customers that occur via delivery, drive-through, take-out and curbside pick-up are intended to be completed as immediately as possible and with minimal to no interaction at a distance of less than two metres
Appendix A to the Guidelines provides businesses with important information regarding the difference between self-isolation and quarantine as well as the mandatory requirements for each.
Appendix B to the Guidelines sets out a specific COVID-19 Plan for large production facilities, such as food processing and manufacturing plants, which pose unique and increased risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19. The COVID-19 Plan for these facilities addresses minimum requirements in regard to site maps; physical distancing; use of administrative, engineering and personal protective equipment; cleaning and disinfection; staff and visitor inventory; site-specific isolation and quarantine protocols, screening and communication protocols.
The MLT Aikins labour and employment group continues to monitor the situation and will provide additional updates on COVID-19 related legal issues that may impact employers. In the interim, our team would be pleased to assist with ensuring your organization is prepared to safely resume business operations and that the policies and procedures in place comply with the Guidelines.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.