There are several risk factors that increase transmission of COVID-19, such as:
- close contact
- closed spaces
- crowded places
- forceful exhalation
- prolonged and cumulative exposure
- inconsistent adherence to public health measures
Across the province, workplace outbreaks have continuously been linked to staff-to staff interactions including time spent during breaks, lunch hour and work-related activities.
Close contact: when an individual is within two metres of a person who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more or spent a cumulative amount of time together (i.e., multiple interactions). When defining risk, public health will also consider other factors such as shared spaces, crowded places or total cumulative amount of time spent together. Limiting these risks is critical to help reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in your workplace.
Reducing the Risk of COVID-19
Under Ontario’s labour laws, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases such as COVID-19. There are many things you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as facilitating proper hand hygiene, wearing face coverings, respiratory etiquette, physical distancing and implementing daily screening of COVID-19 symptoms.
Workplaces should implement screening for any workers or essential visitors entering the work environment. This does not include patrons entering a workplace (e.g., customers entering a grocery store, restaurant, bar or other food or drink establishment). It also excludes emergency services or other first responders entering a workplace for emergency purposes.
** In some higher classifications of the Ontario COVID-19 Response Framework, active screening of patrons is required at all businesses. Currently this does not pertain to the PHU area**.
- Screening should occur before or when a worker enters the workplace at the beginning of their day or shift, or when an essential visitor arrives.
- Screening can be active or passive. Refer to your sector specific guidance to confirm what type of screening is required for your business establishment.
- Passive screening involves placing a sign at all entrances and asking people that enter to screen themselves by reading the sign and answering the questions before entering.
- Active screening involves having a designated staff person ask the screening questions before allowing someone to enter. These questions could include the following:
- Are you experiencing any of these common symptoms that may be related to COVID-19:
- fever (38°C / 100.4°F and over), a new or worsening cough, shortness of breath;
- or other symptoms such as: sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, new loss of smell or taste, digestive issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain)?
- less common symptoms of COVID-19 are also listed on our feeling sick page.
- Have you travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days?
- Have you been in close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19?
- Anyone who answers “YES” to any of these questions should be advised to self-isolate immediately and call the health unit for further instructions.
- The online COVID-19 self-assessment from the government of Ontario website can be used for employees. View the tool here.
Public Health Measures in the Workplace
Under Ontario’s labour laws, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases including COVID-19:
- Masks are required in all areas of the workplace that are accessible to the public and in work vehicles.
- Employees should wear masks anytime they are unable to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from anyone else, as well as when leaving their workstation and in all common areas should as hallways, stairways, break rooms, copy room, etc.
- An impermeable barrier (i.e., plexiglass), does not replace the need for a mask when a physical distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained on either side of the plexiglass.
- Ensure cubicles and workstations are at least 2 metres from one another.
- Keep every second cubicle or workstation whenever possible.
- Limit the number of people in the office. Offer work from home options if possible.
- Stagger work times, lunch breaks and break times.
- Measure and post room capacity limits. Capacity limits must ensure that a physical distance of at least 2 metres between colleagues can be maintained at all times.
- Limit staff to staff interactions:
- Encourage the use of virtual platforms for all team meetings, even when coworkers are in the same building.
- Encourage the use of virtual platforms for coffee breaks and lunch break.
- Post signage throughout the workplace to encourage physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask use.
- Limit the number of people on an elevator.
As a workplace or business, implementing public health measures helps reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 for both your customers and your employees. We recognize your dedication and commitment to keeping our communities safe.
- Encourage a physical distance of 2 metres between all staff and customers.
- Use floor stickers to provide visual reminder to maintain physical distance.
- Use directional arrows to limit groups of people from congregating and to encourage one-way traffic.
- Use physical barriers such as plexiglass. Remember, a plexiglass does not replace the need for a face mask when a physical distance of 2 metres is not maintained on either side of the barrier.
- Follow provincial capacity limits.
- Limit the number of people in elevators.
- Ensure patrons in lineups are spaced out a distance of 2 metres from one another.
- Offer curbside pick up or delivery.
For more information on physical distancing, check out this factsheet.
I own a business, what it my responsibility:
O. Reg 364/20 require the use of masks and face coverings in Ontario workplaces.
The regulation requires that “the person responsible for a business or organization that is open shall ensure that any person in the indoor area of the premises of the business or organization, or in a vehicle that is operating as part of the business or organization, wears a mask or face covering in a manner that covers their mouth, nose and chin during any period when they are in the indoor area”.
- public spaces (i.e., inside stores, common areas in hotels, event spaces, entertainment facilities)
- vehicles that operate as part of a business or organization, including taxis and rideshares
As a business owner, your responsibility is to:
- Adopt a policy (view our sample policy) for your facility that requires employees and customers who access your premises to wear a face covering that properly covers the nose, mouth and chin.
- Remind customers upon entry that a mask is mandatory.
- Have proper and clear signage before entering the facility.
- Ensure that all employees are aware of the policy.
Individuals are not required to provide proof of exemption.
Can businesses turn people away?
It remains up to individual business owners and operators if they wish to refuse entry to individuals who may not have an exemption and choose not to wear one. Consider offering curbside pick up or delivery to individuals who are unable to wear a mask.
Can the customers remove their masks?
Temporary removal of a mask is permitted when necessary:
- When communicating with someone with hearing difficulties. Ensure to maintain physical distance.
- Actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities.
- Consuming food or drink.
- While receiving services to areas of the face that would otherwise be covered by a face covering, when and where any such services are permitted under the regulations.
- For any emergency or medical purpose.
Are employees required to wear a mask at all times?
Masks are required in all areas of the workplace that are accessible to the public and in work vehicles.
Employees should wear masks anytime they are unable to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from anyone else, as well as when leaving their workstation and in all common areas should as hallways, stairways, break rooms, copy room, etc.
An impermeable barrier (i.e. plexiglass), does not replace the need for a mask when a physical distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained on either side of the plexiglass.
Additional mask information, posters, and other resources are available on our mask and face coverings webpage.
Please remember that face masks and coverings do not replace the need to keep two metres from others nor frequent hand washing.
Offer hand sanitizer at entry points to your business and in areas of high traffic.
Customer and employees should wash their hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Offer contactless payment methods such as tap or e-transfer whenever possible.
Any worker who feels ill should be sent home immediately to self-monitor and self-isolate. They should call their local Assessment Centre, their primary care provider or the health unit at 1-800-461-8181. Additionally, employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and follow recommendations on how to reduce the spread.
Business Continuity Plans
Implement business continuity plans and policies as appropriate:
- Explore the flexibility of policies and practices, such as teleworking arrangements, flexible hours, staggering start times, use of email and teleconferencing.
- Prepare for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members and/or dismissals of early childhood programs and schools.
- Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees and how to reduce these risks.