Workplaces must screen workers, volunteers for COVID-19 or else face stiff penalties

By Lindsay Advocate

A new COVID-19-screening law has been in effect for workplaces in Ontario for the past five days — but not all employers may realize it.

By order of Ontario health officials, starting Sept. 25, all workplaces in Ontario must screen all workers, contractors, volunteers and outside service providers for COVID-19 as a condition of entry.

Failure to comply can lead to significant penalties, including potentially fines and imprisonment under the legislation. The new “COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces (Businesses and Organizations)” is available here.

Virtually everyone must be screened to enter the workplace, including:

• workers, which means all staff and is “intended to include students, contractors or volunteers that conduct business or related activities where applicable and appropriate”; and

• essential visitors, which “includes individuals providing a service in the establishment who are not employees or patrons of the establishment (e.g., delivery, maintenance, contract workers).”
However, workplaces do not need to screen:

• patrons of an establishment; or

• “emergency services or other first responders entering a workplace for emergency purposes”.

However, businesses can legitimately ask anyone to be screened if they want, including customers.

The screening tool outlines three screening questions that should be used “at a minimum”. Each individual subject to the Screening Tool is to be asked:

• whether the individual has any new or worsening symptoms or signs of COVID-19;
• whether the individual has travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days; and
• whether the individual has had close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

These screening questions are to be applied before or at the time a worker enters the workplace at the beginning of their workday or shift, or when an essential visitor arrives.

If the worker or essential visitor answers “yes” to any of the three questions, then that person should be told not to enter the workplace. Instead, they should self-isolate at home and should call their health care provider or Telehealth Ontario.

The screening tool also applies to any outdoor or partially outdoor workplace.

Before this, employers were already required to operate workplaces in compliance with the “advice, recommendations and instructions of public health officials,” which would include public health officials at the municipal, provincial and federal level as applicable.

Now, Ontario employers must specifically comply with the requirements of the screening tool, and to implement the screening at any workplace it operates in the province.

Employers who are already screening workers and other visitors should review their screening procedures in light of the new requirements.

The screening tool has an acknowledgement that it “may be adapted based on need and the specific setting” and, therefore, there appears to be some flexibility in how it is implemented.

–with files from Jason Ward.

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