Getting Back to Work in a Pandemic

As the country slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials warn that we are not yet back to normal. In fact, normal may well be a very far way off. That said, provincial governments are announcing strategies to open businesses, get people back to work and breathe some life into some very hurting economies.

It’s a balance. Canadians’ health must be top priority, but their livelihoods – and the sustainability of their employers – is also important. So, as businesses slowly get back to business, most taking a staged approach, owners and operators may have a few things to consider in the weeks and months to come.

Many employees were laid off in March and April, the blow softened to a degree by provincial and federal supports. For some, the money was a lifesaver, but for many, it’s not enough to make up for all the lost income, and plenty of people are eager to get out of the house and get back to work.

But even some who are ready to return to work are afraid. They may be vulnerable to COVID-19 or fear bringing the virus home to someone else who’s vulnerable. So…can they refuse?

The short answer is no. Says Howard Levitt, a Toronto-based employment and labour lawyer, “there’s really no choice. If it’s a safe workplace, the employee has to go back to work.” (Find more on the rules here.)

If they fear their employer is not taking adequate precautions, workers can contact health inspectors, the WCB or the provincial Labour ministry. But their first step should be to talk to their bosses and find out what the employer is actually doing.

The reality is, most businesses don’t want to expose anyone to health risks. If your business has recently re-opened or is set to reopen soon, here are some things to consider to gain your employees’ confidence.

Give workers more breathing room. Literally. Physical distancing has been key to preventing the spread of COVID and, until there’s a vaccine, it should continue to be practiced in public and in the workplace. You might look at creating greater distance between desks, staggering breaks and having employees work shifts so the workplace is less crowded.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. By now we all know that washing your hands is one of the best ways to fend off the virus. Remi