OHS Canada Magazine

How to prepare your workplace for a pandemic

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March 17, 2020
By Paul McLean

Health & Safety Human Resources Coronavirus COVID-19 Emergency Management Workplace

Employers should have a comprehensive plan in place

Employers should have comprehensive planning in place to deal with issues like coronavirus, writes lawyer Paul McLean. (dottedyeti/Adobe Stock)

When it comes to emergency management, the global spread of pandemics such as COVID-19 is an issue employers need to prepare for.

Employers have the same legal duties under occupational health and safety, employment standards and human rights legislation as they would with any other illness impacting employees. Employers may also be subject to additional duties in the event that an outbreak of illness rises to the level of a public health emergency.

If they do not already, employers should have a comprehensive workplace pandemic plan, tailored to the particular needs of their organization.

The plan should address four themes:


Ensure your organization is prepared to address the issue. Designate key employees who will manage the employer’s response to any pandemic. Make an actual plan to respond to the risk of a pandemic impacting the workplace.



Identify where you will be able to find up-to-date and reliable information about a disease outbreak, including its current status, symptoms and prevention strategies, and where to receive medical care. Develop a strategy for communicating the necessary information to employees in a format that is easily accessible from home.

Risk management and containment

Consider workplace strategies for reducing the spread of illness, such as employee work-from-home strategies, staggering shift starts and breaks to reduce the number of people in the workplace at a time, and arranging work stations to maintain distance between individuals.


Consider how your business will be impacted by a pandemic. Staffing may be one of the biggest concerns. Predictions for absenteeism during a local outbreak vary by industry, but a general recommendation for employers is to plan for an absenteeism rate of between 20 to 25 per cent during a peak two-week period of an outbreak in a specific area, with lower absenteeism in the weeks before and after.

Through workplace pandemic plans, employers can play a role in preventing the everyday spread of illness by encouraging good health practices among employees.

Paul McLean is a partner with Mathews Dinsdale in Vancouver.


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