Workplace Pandemic Plans: What Employers Need to Know
With COVID-19 appearing in the news more and more every day, both federal and provincial governments are encouraging preparedness. What is an employer’s responsibility to employees in the event of wide-scale infection? What steps can an employer take in advance to ensure preparedness?
Employers in all industries will benefit from having a workplace pandemic/ continuity plan in place.
In the event COVID-19 spreads widely within Canada, employers have the same legal duties as they would with any other illness impacting employees. One of the primary considerations will be whether employees can reasonably refuse to attend work for safety reasons if and when COVID-19 is present in the community.
So what is a Pandemic Plan?
It is a plan that describes how an organization will continue to function during or after some kind of emergency, specifically detailing processes and procedures that will be enacted in the event of an infectious disease outbreak, such as the novel coronavirus. Critically, businesses must plan for employees being unable to report to work because they are:
• sick or quarantined (suspected, actual, or post-infectious cases)
• caring for children (if sick, or in the event schools are closed), or other family members
• preferring to remain at home, or under mandatory order by public health
• avoiding public spaces, including gatherings, and avoidance of public transportation
Possible effects on business from a pandemic event can include:
• reduced labour supply, including your regular employees or availability of subcontractors or temporary employees
• customer orders (cancelled or not filled)
• interruption in deliveries of supplies or materials
• restrictions on travel (regional, national or international)
To establish policies to be implemented during a pandemic, it is essential to identify:
• critical processes, operations, and functions
• key internal and external “dependencies” — those things, people or other business you rely on.
• other events/ issues that can affect your business (border closures, public transportation suspension etc.)
What should be included in a Pandemic Plan?
Once you have decided what elements of your business are critical and what the possible situations may be and the consequence of the loss of this critical element, you can develop plans to work around these situations.
At the minimum it should contain information about:
Personnel: identify and train “back ups” for essential (or all) functions. Plan for possible overtime requirements/ payments to staff who are available.
Sick Leave Policies: what are your policies regarding paid/ unpaid leave? Do they require updating or expansion in the event of a health emergency in order to properly incent employees to STAY HOME if they are ill? Consider the cost of offering at least some paid sick days vs. the cost of having a portion of your workforce out of commission due to contagion.
Work Refusal: how will you handle an employee who refuses to work due to safety concerns?
Equipment: what is essential? Do you need duplicate or “back up” equipment? Ensure that you have access to facilities, utilities, computers, machinery, tools, vehicles and communication equipment on-site or off-site. This includes ability to access systems from remote or home locations.
Business Commitments: research possible contractual or legal implications for level of services or arrangements for non-performance of business agreements, etc.
How detailed your plan should be will depend on the type of business, the complexity of your organization and its size. Essentially, you need to take a look at what is critical to your business, and determine how emergencies or events will impact these areas.
If you require assistance drafting a pandemic policy for your business, please contact us.