On September 26, 2020, the Government of Ontario amended Ontario Regulation 364/20 (Rules for Areas in Stage 3) to introduce new mandatory screening requirements in workplaces across Ontario. The amendment requires all businesses and organizations in Ontario to screen workers and “essential visitors” for COVID-19 before allowing them entry to the premises. As failure to comply with the new requirements can result in charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers will want to act immediately to ensure they have implemented the screening procedures.
The new provision under the Regulation requires that “The person responsible for a business or organization that is open shall operate the business or organization in compliance with the advice, recommendations and instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health on screening individuals.” Along with this provision, the Ontario Ministry of Health released a COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces (Businesses and Organizations). The Screening Tool identifies that “workers” includes employees, students, contractors or volunteers, and “essential visitors” includes delivery and maintenance personnel, as well as contract workers, but does not include patrons. The screening requirements also do not apply to emergency services who are entering a workplace for emergency purposes.
The Screening Tool indicates that workers should be screened at the beginning of the work day or their shift, and essential visitors screened at the time they arrive. The screening consists of three questions designed to assess the risk of COVID-19 exposure:
1) whether the individual is experiencing any new or worsening symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and nausea;
2) whether the individual has travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days; and
3) whether the individual has been in close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.
If an individual answers NO to all three questions, it is safe for them to enter the workplace. However, if the individual answers YES to any of the questions, they should not be permitted entry to the workplace. The Screening Tool recommends that these individuals be advised to go home and self-isolate immediately, and to contact their health care provider or Telehealth Ontario to determine whether it is necessary to get a COVID-19 test. For essential workers who travel outside of Canada for work, the Screening Tool notes that these individuals should not be excluded based on this question alone. In other words, it appears that as long as the other two questions are answered in the negative, the individual could be permitted to enter the workplace
Takeaways for Employers
No specific guidance has been provided with respect to how employers are to implement the Screening Tool, how to collect the responses, how to store the responses or how long this information should be retained. As the Screening Tool is collecting personal health information from the individual, the forms should be utilized only for the purposes of assessing an individual’s fitness to enter the workplace. Confidentiality should be maintained to the extent possible, and all responses should be stored in a secure location where only certain authorized individuals will have access. We recommend that records be maintained at least for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Businesses will likely want to set up a designated check-in area or station at the entrance of the workplace to ensure that workers and essential visitors are screened as required. Businesses with multiple entrances should ensure that individuals are either directed through the main entrance, or that multiple screening stations are established to ensure that no one slips through the cracks.
Many employers have already implemented screening procedures in their workplaces to try and mitigate the risks of COVID-19. For these employers, they should ensure that any procedures they have established are consistent with the requirements set out in the Screening Tool.