The COVID-19 pandemic has created new, urgent challenges for employers. Below, we’ve documented some of the current leave of absence practices that our clients are using to help manage during this pandemic, as well as an FAQ based on our work with our clients.

NEW: ACOEM® COVID-19 Guidance for Employers and Businesses

General Principles:

  • Protect the vulnerable (older adults, those with underlying conditions resulting in immunocompromise, or pregnant) .
  • Identify and remove newly infected persons.
  • Keep employees and workplaces safe and sanitary.
  • Have appropriate governance policies in place.

Recommended Planning:

  • Inform and seek authorization for your plan from your organization’s leadership. Develop your plan in conjunction with occupational health and safety professionals, government regulations, and public health authorities.
  • Sick employees (including those with minimal symptoms) should stay home.
  • Eliminate all close contact with anyone with infectious symptoms [19]. If there is believed to be COVID-19’s SARS-CoV2 virus transmission in your area or someone has traveled to a region with potential infections, then anyone with even mild symptoms of a respiratory tract infection (e.g., cough, fever, fatigue) should stay home to be sure they do not progress to a clear, readily transmissible, and potentially severe COVID-19 infection [16].
  • Stop all non-essential travel to any cities/countries with outbreaks or community spread in progress (see map to help with other risk considerations [20]). Companies should assess their risk tolerance regarding cessation of all non-essential travel; this is especially true for travel either to, or through, any country/region/city reporting cases.
  • Train staff on how to properly disinfect workplaces and provide them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Appropriate PPE for cleaning an office contaminated by the virus is typically N95 or other device to sufficiently filter the virus.
  • Clean commonly touched worksite surfaces frequently (e.g., hourly), including machine controls, door handles, bathroom doors, faucet handles, lunch tabletops, etc. Consider propping open bathroom and other doors to reduce handling. Avoid shared equipment when possible (e.g., keyboards), and clean common surfaces between shifts or between worker usage.
  • Clean surfaces with an agent that kills viruses (e.g., 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, 0.1% sodium hypochlorite) for at least 1 minute [9]. It is important to allow sufficient time for sanitizing agents to work, and directions should be carefully followed.
  • Encourage frequent handwashing [21].
  • Educate and place posters throughout workplace to remind employees to not touch their eyes, nose, and/or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Teach workers to use tissues to catch a cough or sneeze, then throw that tissue away and wash their hands.
  • Avoid scheduled aggregate meetings and encourage physical distancing within group settings, ideally a distance of at least 2 meters [22]. Encourage use of teleconferences and/or other virtual meeting formats.
  • Encourage early reporting of any symptoms consistent with COVID to the designated employer representative or supervisor.
  • Have employees who develop symptoms stay away from the workplace until clinically evaluated and/or until the symptoms are resolved.
  • Consider having employees who could be in the incubation stage work from home for at least 14 days after the possible exposure.
  • Emphasis should be placed on mitigating workers being at work during peak viral shedding but then as soon as feasible safely cycling back to job
  • Report any suspected case to the local health department.
  • If there is a confirmed case in your workplace, attempt to maintain confidentiality and identify the most common contacts with that person and either: 1) have the close contacts work from home and/or 2) prevent the close contacts from entering the workplace.
  • When antibody testing becomes available, assess the antibody status of critical and susceptible populations (under medical direction to ensure proper implementation, interpretation, and management). These populations include employees on oil drilling platforms, commercial maritime, cruise lines, airlines, and assembly lines with workforces working closely together.
  • Provide proactive assistance to support mental health for the workforce.
  • Identify and train workplace coordinators who will be responsible for implementing and monitoring the plan.

More details regarding business concerns are available from the CDC [23].

Footnotes:

11. Guan, W.-j., et al., Clinical characteristics of 2019 novel coronavirus infection in China. MedRxiv, 2020.
12. Michelen, M., N. Jones, and C. Stavropoulou. In patients of COVID-19, what are the symptoms and clinical features of mild and moderate cases? 2020; Available from: https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/in-patients-of-covid-19-what-are-the-symptoms-and-clinicalfeatures-of-mild-and-moderate-case/.
13. Pan, L., et al., Clinical characteristics of COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms in Hubei, China: a descriptive, cross-sectional, multicenter study. Am J Gastroenterol, 2020. 20.
14.Rodriguez-Morales, A.J., et al., Clinical, laboratory and imaging features of COVID-19: Asystematic review and meta-analysis. Travel medicine and infectious disease, 2020: p. 101623.
15. Xu, X., et al., Imaging and clinical features of patients with 2019 novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, 2020: p. 1-6.
16.Wong, J.E., Y.S. Leo, and C.C. Tan, COVID-19 in Singapore—current experience: critical global issues that require attention and action. Jama, 2020.
17. Matthews, A. and N. McDermott. IT’S SPREADING First coronavirus case confirmed in London as woman diagnosed with deadly bug brings total in UK to nine. 2020; Available from: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/uknews/10950656/first-coronavirus-case-confirmed-inlondon-as-officials-worst-fears-come-true/.
18. Zhang, Y. The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020. 2020; Available from: http://weekly.chinacdc.cn/en/article/id/e53946e2-c6c4-41e9-9a9b-fea8db1a8f51.
19.CDC. How to Protect Yourself & Others. 2020; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-gettingsick/prevention.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fprevention.html.
20. University, J.H. Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) . 2020; Available from: https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6.
21. Ferner, R. Hand Disinfectant and COVID-19. 2020; Available from: https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/hand-disinfectant-and-covid-19/.
22. Mahtani, K., C. Heneghan, and J.K. Aronson. What is the evidence for social distancing during global pandemics? 2020; Available from: https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/what-is-the-evidencefor-social-distancing-during-global-pandemics/.
23. CDC. Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). 2020; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-businessresponse.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fspecific-groups%2Fguidance-business-response.html.

Employer Management & Company Impacts

The majority of our clients are expanding work from home options. We have heard of a couple of other adaptations being implemented, including limiting onsite and offsite meetings.

Some clients are also moving to rotating Early Shift/Late Shift schedules, to allow more employees to work from home at any given time while still maintaining a functioning presence at their offices. These practices vary by province, depending on the current legislation for mandatory shutdowns.

In terms of leave eligibility, we’ve advised ReedGroup clients to manage claims as they normally would under their plans. For example, if an employee does not meet the requirements for STD, even if quarantined, they would not be entitled to leave under these programs. However, the employer may consider providing that employee with PTO for the quarantined period or allow them to work from home if possible. We are deferring to our clients’ directives as to how they would like these claims managed; large employers can have very different operational needs.

If it is a confirmed case, the employee may be entitled to leave under a statutory or company leave program, such as short-term disability leave, for example.

Unless the employee is ill or on mandatory quarantine due to potential exposure, they are likely not eligible for company leave programs.

To date, we have not seen any increase in mental health claims related to COVID-19.

Since the leave time is not related to the child’s illness, you may not be entitled to a company leave program. However, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)  will cover Canadian working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are at home because of school or daycare closures. The CERB may provide parents $2,000 a month for up to 4 months. In addition, some employers are offering employees personal leaves due to school closures.

For employees returning from personal or work-related travel overseas or to other areas with high risk, the safest course of action is to self-quarantine and work from home for a minimum of 14 days and not have direct contact with other workers [11]. If that worker becomes ill, he or she should promptly call a healthcare provider before appearing in a clinic or hospital (e.g., to arrange which entrance to use, to be given an appropriate type of mask before entering the building). The person should also avoid all contact with other people and use a face covering or mask when going out of the home. Wearing a surgical-type mask when ill may help to reduce the spread of the virus from the wearer’s sneezes or coughs. It is also recommended that healthy individuals wear a face covering or mask when going out in the community, as there is evidence of COVID-19’s SARS-CoV2 virus spreading by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals. Any questions about potential COVID-19 infections should be directed to the local health department, which has the expertise and personnel to investigate outbreaks and perform contact tracings (provided they are not overwhelmed by the current epidemic). It is important to recognize that return-to-work recommendations for essential workers, especially healthcare workers, may need to be modified in the course of the epidemic for practical reasons in response to acute workforce shortages in key jobs and sectors.

This person should be treated as if he or she was infected, with a quarantine period of at least 14 days. Be sure that the local health department is involved. If the employee develops typical symptoms of COVID-19 infection, they should contact their primary physician or health department for testing.

Follow the same protocol as if the person was returning from an overseas country or area with a high risk of infection.

Quarantined or Virus Exposed Employee FAQs

We have not seen any company policy additions. However, we are seeing clients leverage existing plans and policies in different ways (e.g. allowing unpaid leave and personal leaves) and employees are utilizing Employment Insurance if they are required to quarantine and it is not supported by their workplace.

If they have returned from international travel, they are under mandatory quarantine based on the Canadian Government’s legislation.

A physician’s clearance may be required for an employee to return to work; however, these practices vary depending on the workplace environment to which the employee returns and current provincial legislation.

Based on the most recent legislation, the quarantine period is 14 days, which would be an appropriate period of time to cover the employee if the client chooses to do so.

If the employee has a family member (or someone they have been in close contact with) who returned from an international travel, then the employee should be advised to self-isolate for a 14-day period. They can, however, be permitted to work from home if that’s appropriate for their job.

At this time, employers do not have the right to request medical documentation to support a quarantine or self-isolation.

If the employee is ill, they may apply to company leave programs such as Short Term Disability. However, if the employee is not ill, your company may choose to offer personal leave time or refer the employee to EI benefits.

We’ll update this page with additional information and resources as they become available.

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