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COVID-19 Update

Further to the February/March 2020 CEO Update, CSSEA is providing an update on labour relations matters associated with the spread of COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. As you know, events have been unfolding quickly over the past couple of weeks since the last CEO Update, with new issues emerging every few days based on developments around the globe and updated directions from the Provincial Medical Health Officer (MHO). We appreciate that members have been doing their best to manage in this rapidly changing environment. CSSEA will address below a number of issues raised over the past week and will also issue further updates in the future, based on new developments and advice from the Provincial MHO and government, and feedback from members and unions. The situation remains highly fluid and we encourage members to check the websites referenced below often for the latest news and developments.

General Health and Safety

As mentioned previously, employers’ overarching responsibility in times like this is to maintain quality services while supporting a safe and healthy workplace and remain compliant with occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation to prevent risk of exposure to communicable diseases. Best practices include more frequent and comprehensive cleaning, making hand sanitizers available at all worksites for employees, clients and visitors, and strongly encouraging regular hand washing and proper coughing/sneezing etiquette. Further, notices should be posted in prominent locations reminding staff and visitors to exercise proper hygiene and etiquette and to stay away from the worksite if not feeling well. Universal precautions should also be put in place, ensuring that a reasonable supply of gloves, masks and any other equipment appropriate for your worksites are readily available. And finally, reviewing with staff all of the health and safety steps taken on a regular basis will be helpful in increasing confidence in safety levels.

Working from Home

Even if asymptomatic, employers may act to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by having certain employees work from home where it is feasible to do so. Employees working from home would continue to be paid as usual for their work time. Prior to proceeding with these arrangements, employers should ensure that all relevant OHS requirements, risk assessments and privacy considerations have been considered and implemented. Please see the BC Government webpage on flexible workplaces to ensure that you have taken into account the relevant considerations.

Sick Leave

The Collective Agreement provisions on sick leave and the Early Intervention Program (EIP) continue to apply. Employees with flu-like symptoms should not attend at work and should remain at home to recover, utilizing their sick leave banks to support a paid leave to the extent that credits are available. Where credits are not available and the sickness persists, employees have a right to apply for Employment Insurance benefits, as usual, and the federal government has recently announced that the one-week waiting period will not need to be served. The Provincial Medical Health Officer recommends that employers should not ask for proof of sick leave at this time (subject to compelling reasons), to avoid unnecessary demands on primary care physicians and to minimize the risk of employees/others being exposed to sickness while visiting doctors’ offices. Having said that, employees who are returning to work after having been sick with COVID-19 may be requested to provide medical clearance prior to returning to support a safe and healthy workplace.

Self-Isolation/Quarantine

Employee isolation or quarantine for the 14 day incubation period should be done only with the approval of a medical professional unless the employee is returning from international travel, including from the United States. This is on the direction of the BC Medical Health Officer to self-isolate for 14 days in order to monitor for symptoms of the illness.

All other employees who have not travelled outside of Canada and who are concerned about having contracted the virus should contact 8-1-1, their primary care physician, or local public health office, to secure and follow directions on self-isolation, even though asymptomatic.

Employees who are directed to self-isolate would be placed on a paid leave of absence (not sick leave) for the duration of the recommended isolation period, and those who are authorized to work from home would continue to be paid as usual.

Employees who commence travel outside of Canada after March 13 contrary to the direction of the Provincial MHO do so at their own risk. Upon returning to Canada, they would be placed on an unpaid leave for the 14 day self-isolation period, or they may use available vacation credits or apply for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

All self-isolating employees should be directed to keep their employer updated regarding the status of any direction or updates they receive from a qualified medical professional.

Refusal to Work

Employees who are not showing symptoms of illness or who do not actively secure direction from a qualified medical professional to self-isolate are expected to attend, and remain at, work as scheduled, despite understandable personal concerns about potential exposure in the community or in the workplace. All refusals to perform work should be taken seriously and investigated. If a belief is expressed by an employee that they are concerned about exposure, Section 3.12 of the OHS Regulation provides employers and employees with a process to address it.

Concerns about exposure can be initially addressed by ensuring that there are sufficient universal precautions in place, and that all health and safety measures are regularly reviewed with staff - see above.

Staffing Coverage

Some employers have expressed concerns that there may be a potential shortage of available staff to deliver services due to a higher number of illnesses and self-isolation. CSSEA is engaging in discussions with the unions about this possibility and what mitigation strategies may be available, including flexibility in the deployment of staff, and the need to respond to a shortage with skeletal or essential services staffing levels. Employers are advised to refer to their most recent essential services plan in the event it is needed to inform what the essential service staffing levels are.


CSSEA also recommends that no vacations be granted for the foreseeable future, to assist employers in responding to unexpected staffing coverage needs. Depending on developments, it may also be necessary in the future to consider the cancelling of vacations already granted.

Agencies who may be concerned that certain programs may contribute to a higher risk of exposure to clients and employees should contact their funders and the Provincial MHO to assess the situation. This situation continues to evolve, as the maximum number of people (currently 50) allowed to gather together is subject to change based on direction from the Provincial MHO.

 

Tracking of Employee Absences

CSSEA recommends that employers track self-isolation (quarantine) absences (measured in hours of work) due to COVID-19, to help inform current and future staffing and funding decisions, given the above direction on paid leaves for self-isolation. Employers are advised to use this online tool to conduct the tracking. CSSEA will continue to work with the provincial government and the funders to identify and report the financial impact to employers of the costs associated with the paid self-isolation period.

Union Proposed Agreements

CSSEA understands that some unions are approaching employers to sign individual agreements on how labour relations matters will be addressed. Employers need not engage in negotiations at this time, and are not to sign these proposed memorandum. Any negotiations to vary the collective agreements must be done by or authorized by CSSEA to be done in the best interests of all members. Please direct the union proposing an agreement to your CSSEA Consultant or Advocate. In the meantime, please follow the directions set out in CSSEA’s bulletins.

Future Developments

CSSEA remains in active discussions with government, other employer associations and the bargaining association on emerging issues associated with COVID-19, and CSSEA will continue to communicate with members on HRLR developments. CSSEA is meeting with the Union Bargaining Association tomorrow and depending on the nature of the discussion, a supplementary bulletin may follow.

References

As this situation remains fluid, we encourage all employers to stay informed of developments by regularly visiting the following helpful websites:

Office of the Provincial Health Officer
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the-provincial-health-officer

BC Centre for Disease Control – COVID-19
http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/coronavirus-(novel)

HealthLink BC (which contains many links to other useful websites)
https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-feature/coronavirus-covid-19

Public Health Agency of Canada
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html

and for travel notices:
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/latest-travel-health-advice.html

WorkSafeBC – COVID-19 and the Workplace
https://www.worksafebc.com/en/about-us/news-events/announcements/2020/March/covid-19-and-the-workplace

Government of Canada – Employment Insurance – COVID 19
https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/corporate/notices/coronavirus.html

Communications Contact

Doris Sun
Director of Communications
604.601.3110
604.319.5010
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