OHS Canada Magazine

Could COVID-19 variants affect your business?


In the event of positive cases in the workplace, businesses must comply with their provincial reporting requirements and proceed with contact tracing and virus containment procedures immediately. (Zstock/Adobe Stock)

Coronavirus variants are spreading across Canada and some businesses will be worried about how this might affect them.

Businesses may face further closures as cases increase due to the more contagious strains, and employers could face increased health and safety concerns from staff.

While vaccine programs are only starting throughout the country, it will be a while before the majority of the population is protected from the virus. Businesses will have to continue doing their part in the interest of public health.

This means continuing to strictly follow health and safety guidelines to protect workers and any visitors to the workplace, even as some workers start getting the vaccine, according to Hope McManus, head of health and safety at Toronto consultancy firm Peninsula Canada.

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Is anything new required of businesses?

Public health authorities have not yet released any updated guidelines in response to the new coronavirus variants.

Employers will have to keep an eye out for any news in the coming weeks, immediately update their staff on any developments and make any necessary changes in their workplaces to continue operating in compliance with the laws, she said.

What should businesses do while they wait for additional guidelines?

Employers must ensure their workers continue practising health and safety measures such as social distancing, wearing masks or face coverings, self-monitoring for symptoms and maintaining proper respiratory and hand hygiene, said McManus.

“Workplaces must also be conducting daily screenings of staff to monitor for symptoms, and immediately send staff home if they are feeling sick, have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or if they have recently travelled,” she said.

“Employees can also be encouraged to stay at home as much as possible outside of work hours in order to minimize risk to their workplace.”

What happens if an employee tests positive for a coronavirus variant?

In the event of positive cases in the workplace, businesses must comply with their provincial reporting requirements and proceed with contact tracing and virus containment procedures immediately, said McManus.

This includes restricting and disinfecting areas visited by infected individuals and following up to notify anyone who they’ve recently been in close contact with.

Some workers may be required to self-isolate due to close contact, in which case they would be entitled to take their provincial COVID-19 related leave, she said.

How should employers manage workers’ health and safety concerns?

Some employees might become increasingly worried about coming into work, as new strains spread throughout the country, said McManus.

“Employers can support concerned staff by providing education, resources and keeping them informed on the latest news. For example, employers can explain how new legislation will affect the workplace and provide education on COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination process.”

“If remote working arrangements are possible, employers can consider extending them further even as workplaces reopen,” she said. “In the physical workplace, personal protective equipment and hygiene supplies should be widely available to staff. Likewise, workplace cleaning routines should be frequent and followed diligently to prevent the spread of illness.”

If workers begin experiencing mental health concerns as a result of stress or anxiety due to coronavirus variants, employers should direct them to employee assistance programs, government resources or professional help.

More information on the coronavirus variants is expected as the situation develops. Meanwhile, businesses must continue to follow existing public health guidelines and stay up to date on COVID-19 announcements.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.