Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island

COVID-19 Health and Safety Information for Employers

The following provides workplace health and safety information for Island employers during COVID-19. Please check here frequently for updated information.

The WCB PEI urges all employers to follow the recommendations of the PEI Chief Public Health Office during the COVID-19 crisis.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions necessary to reduce risk, workplaces will need to adjust. As the new normal is established in workplaces, there is an added layer of health and safety measures (physical distancing, screening, handwashing, etc.) required to ensure the safety of workers, customers, and visitors.

WCB encourages all workplaces to think outside the traditional work environment and consider alternate working arrangements, such as working remotely, flexible hours, staggered start times, and the use of virtual meetings rather than in-person where possible.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms may include:

  • new or worsening cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • fever/chills
  • sore throat
  • runny nose, sneezing, congestion
  • headache
  • muscle/joint/body aches
  • felling unwell/unusual tiredness
  • acute loss of sense of smell or taste

Other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea have been reported, but typically along with other COVID-19 symptoms, and may be seen more often in children.

What should I do if I develop symptoms?

  • stay home (isolate) to avoid spreading it to others
  • if you live with others, stay in a separate room or keep a 2-metre distance
  • call your family physician or nurse practitioner or go to a drop-in clinic to be tested

What happens if an employee tests positive?

After confirmation of a positive test either by public health nursing staff or online, the employee must self-isolate and notify their close contacts and employer. To determine the next steps, the employee and employer should review Business Guidance: Employee Diagnosed with COVID-19.

What is a close contact?

A close contact is someone who:

  • you had face to face interaction with indoors or outdoors for at least 15 minutes, including 15 minutes in total over a 24 hour period (e.g. 5 minutes + 5 minutes + 5 minutes), or
  • you were within 2 meters (6 feet) indoors for at least 15 minutes, including 15 minutes in total over a 24 hour period, or
  • you were hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing near, or
  • who provided care to you at home.

Note: If you (the person who tested positive) wore an appropriate well-fitting mask properly for the duration of the interaction, this would not be considered a close contact situation. An appropriate mask could be a three layer non-medical mask (that includes a filter layer), a medical mask, or a respirator.

Please advise your close contacts to visit COVID-19 Close Contact for more information.

Where can I obtain rapid antigen tests for my workplace?

In collaboration with the Government of Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart will be offering increased and timely access to free rapid antigen tests through the Rapid Antigen Screening Program for Small & Medium-sized Organizations. Organizations must register online and their request will be screened to determine eligibility.

As an employer, what are my occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibilities related to COVID-19?

The OHS Act sets out the obligation for employers to take every reasonable precaution to protect the occupational health and safety of persons at or near the workplace at all times. This means that employers must assess the risks of the workplace and take appropriate action to either eliminate or, if that is not possible, minimize those risks.

If it is necessary for workers to come to work, it is essential that your workers and supervisors understand their responsibilities to minimize exposure to COVID-19. You are also responsible for ensuring your entire team understands and complies with the safety measures in place. Training, communication, and documentation are critical to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

Stay Informed

Be attentive to changes. Watch and listen to reliable information outlets, such as the PEI Chief Public Health Office, Government of PEI, Public Health Agency of Canada and WCB PEI. Comply with mandatory orders issued by Public Safety and any applicable directives and guidelines from Public Health.

Involve Your Staff

Consult with staff, your joint health and safety committee or employee health and safety representative, as appropriate. Your workers can help with many aspects of communication, support, and more.

Communicate

Inform your supervisors and workers of their rights and responsibilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Regularly communicate the importance of protecting themselves and others from COVID-19, changes to processes and procedures, and why these changes are required.

Prepare for an Exposure

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, Public Health will provide them with clear direction, including steps they must take. Public Health may also contact the employer and other employees to provide direction, if necessary.

Understanding the Risk in Your Workplace

Understanding the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission in your workplace is an essential first step in minimizing the risk of exposure. Jobs within a workplace vary, and so too will the risks of exposure. Performing an overall assessment of the workplace is important. Understanding the risks will help you determine appropriate precautionary measures.

Zero risk is not possible in any setting and this isn’t the objective. The expectation is that employers reduce risk as much as possible within their workplace. This may mean relying on a combination of controls that improve safety while allowing your business to continue operations.

SEE COVID-19 EMPLOYER TOOLKIT FOR ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Are masks mandatory?

As of May 6, 2022, people in Prince Edward Island are no longer required to wear masks in indoor public places or in workplaces where distancing cannot be maintained. However, masks are still strongly recommended in indoor public places.

Masks are still required in certain high-risk settings, including:

  • hospitals,
  • long term care,
  • community care,
  • public transit,
  • students and staff in K-12 when they are on buses and when not seated in class, and
  • early learning and childcare.

Can an employer require their worker to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Maybe.

The ability of employers to mandate the vaccination of workers is a legal question beyond the scope of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations. It requires the consideration of other areas of law such as employment standards and human rights.

Every workplace is different, but some workplaces may require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine to return to or continue to work. Employers should seek legal advice when developing a mandatory vaccination policy. Employers need to address not only workplace health and safety and workers’ interests, but also consider labor and employer, as well as human rights issues.

Requirements for mandatory vaccinations should be justified by scientific evidence, should be time limited (i.e., during the pandemic) and be necessary in the context of the workplace because less-intrusive alternatives are not available.

Even where worker vaccination is mandatory, employers may have to consider what special arrangements can be made for a worker who is not able to be vaccinated for reasons related to a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act. Employers must accommodate those who cannot receive a vaccine to the point of undue hardship. Accommodations include things like work-from-home, additional protective equipment in the workplace, testing, reassignment to a role with less contact, leave of absence and so on.

The Human Rights Act does not provide protection to individuals who choose not to be vaccinated as a matter of personal preference.

Can an employer ask for proof of COVID-19 vaccination?

Yes. If an employer can justify the use of a mandatory vaccination policy, they can request proof of vaccination. An individual’s vaccination status is highly sensitive personal health information. Employers should only request medical information, including proof of vaccination, in a way that intrudes as little as possible on an individual’s privacy and does not go beyond what is necessary. The information should be kept confidential and should be destroyed when the pandemic is declared over by public health officials.

Can an employer terminate a worker for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Maybe. If a worker’s reason for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine is related to a characteristic protected under the Human Rights Act and the employer did not provide reasonable accommodation, that worker should contact the Human Rights Commission. Each complaint is assessed on a case-by-case basis, so it is not possible to predict the final result of the complaint.

The Human Rights Act does not provide protection to individuals who choose not to be vaccinated as a matter of personal preference.

When should workers stay home from work?

Workers experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should not report to work or, if at work, go home immediately. Employers should ensure that the following workers do not come to work:

  • Workers who are ill or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, whether or not the illness has been confirmed as COVID-19.
  • Workers who are required to self-isolate due to recent out of province travel.
  • Workers who have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19 or someone with symptoms who has recently returned to PEI.
  • Any worker who is required to self-isolate as recommended by the Chief Public Health Office.

Can a worker refuse work due to a COVID-19 concern?

When addressing a work refusal related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize that every refusal is assessed based on circumstances specific to the worker and their workplace. A worker can refuse work if a reasonable assessment of the risk suggests there is an immediate or imminent threat to their safety. A pandemic alone is not enough reason to refuse work. Further information on Refusal to Work can be found here.

I am unable to obtain certification training for my workers, what are my options?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, OHS Service Providers have been hindered in their efforts to provide training and assigning certification based on a demonstration of competency. Occupational Health and Safety is reminding employers that they have a legal requirement to ensure all workers are competent in performing their work tasks safely.

A competent worker has the knowledge, training, and experience to do the assigned work in a manner that will ensure the health and safety of persons at or near the workplace. A competent worker is aware of the potential or actual danger, and is able to mitigate the risk of harm by following established safety practices.

To ensure competency,

  • Provide the worker with the necessary training to work safely.
    • Review safe work procedures and provide an overview of safety controls, including any personal protective equipment (PPE) that is required.
    • Review education resources from past training provided by OHS Service Providers.
    • Document and maintain records of all safety training activity. List the training material that was used or referenced during the training.
  • Demonstrate how to safely perform job tasks to the worker.
    • To confirm understanding, require the worker to demonstrate performing the task safely.
  • Supervise and monitor the worker to ensure safe standards are maintained while performing job tasks.
    • Assign a competent worker (“buddy system”), who is familiar with doing the job safely and efficiently to act as a mentor.
    • Address safety issues immediately and hold workers accountable for unsafe actions.