How employers can navigate COVID-19 while protecting their employees

March 17, 2020

Darryl Hiscocks has spoken to told the Canadian Bar Association’s National Magazine on employers’ evolving obligations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The article touches on various issues law firms in particular are facing, from privacy to health and safety obligations of its employees.

Speaking in regard to employees disclosing their health diagnosis to their employer, Darryl said there are times in which an employee might be compelled to provide that information.

“Generally, an employer cannot legally compel an employee to disclose his or her diagnosis and other personal medical information,” Darryl said.

“In some circumstances, the employee may be compelled to provide such information, such as in cases in which the employee may jeopardize the safety of co-workers. Many employers will probably be willing to be assertive on this point in the current environment.”

The article continues, saying that that normally, “gathering that information in detail would run afoul of federal and provincial privacy laws — but in a pandemic, those privacy rights have to be balanced against the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace”.

Darryl also discusses the responsibility of the employer to bring home staff who are in foreign countries where there is an acute COVID-19 threat.

He told the publication that “those responsibilities could be quite broad and could include a duty to evacuate individuals stuck in an outbreak zone”.

“I had a case of an employee who was travelling for work, ended up getting a communicable disease abroad, was hospitalized and nearly died,” Darryl said.

“My advice was that (the employer) had an obligation to look after the employee and bring them home.

“In the current environment, Canadian employers with employees travelling abroad to high-risk COVID-19 countries should be taking these matters seriously, including assessing whether to return the employees to Canada …”

Darryl and a team of Torys lawyers have written a piece on COVID-19 and the workplace. You can learn more about considerations for your organization by reading “COVID-19 and the workplace: employer obligations”.

At Torys, we understand the how the pandemic is presenting challenging and unique circumstances for businesses. We are keeping close watch on developments as they unfold, and have established a resource centre on our website, COVID-19 guidance for organizations, where you can find our latest updates for businesses navigating COVID-19-related issues.

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