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COVID-19: Foreign worker safety rules

Tuesday, April 07, 2020 @ 8:38 AM | By Jacqueline Bart and Annsley Kesten


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The Canadian government has released guidelines for employers of temporary foreign workers, acknowledging that such employers play an important role in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

On March 26, a mandatory 14-day isolation period came into effect for all travellers entering Canada, including foreign workers. The period of employment for foreign workers entering Canada begins upon their arrival to Canada and includes the duration of the self-isolation period. This means that throughout the isolation period, the employer must comply with all laws and policies relating to the employment relationship, including remuneration and benefits. Standard contractual deductions can be withheld as applicable, however the employer is not permitted to deduct any additional amounts due to observance of the self-isolation period. The employer should retain proof of wages paid.

Even if it is requested by the foreign worker, the employer cannot authorize the foreign worker to engage in work during the self-isolation period, which does not directly relate to their duties. For example, if they are in the agricultural sector, an employer cannot assign alternate tasks, such as administrative tasks or building repairs unless these tasks are specifically listed in their duties.

It is the employer’s responsibility to regularly monitor the health of workers who are self-isolating, as well as the health of any employee who becomes sick after the self-isolation period. If the worker becomes symptomatic at any time, the employer must immediately arrange for the worker’s full isolation from others and should also contact local public health officials. If the employer is aware that the employee is violating the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, or is otherwise contravening the Quarantine Act, the employer should report the violation to local law enforcement.

In addition, the employer is also responsible for ensuring that all workers have access to proper hygiene facilities, which must allow workers to wash their hands often with soap and warm water, or provide an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

On or before the first day of self-isolation, the employer should provide workers with information on COVID-19, which can be found on the government of Canada website. Ideally, this information should be provided in a language understood by the foreign worker. The Public Health Agency of Canada has made such resources available in several languages.

Foreign workers deemed to provide an essential service by the chief public health officer are exempted from the mandatory 14-day isolation period.

Obligations for employers providing worker accommodations

Canadian employers who provide foreign workers with accommodations have additional obligations. These employers must ensure that self-isolating workers are housed in accommodations separate from those who are not self-isolating. The employer can house workers who are subject to self-isolation together, as long as the housing allows at least a two-metre distance between individuals at all times. If either of these criteria are not met, the employer may be required to secure alternate accommodations, such as a hotel, if necessary. In the event that new self-isolating workers are housed in the same accommodations as others who have already begun self-isolating, it is important to note that the clock resets to the day that the most recent worker arrived.

In addition, the employer should ensure that surfaces in accommodations are cleaned and disinfected regularly. Kitchens, bathrooms and common areas should be disinfected daily, or more often as required and recorded in a cleaning log. Workers are permitted to engage in cleaning of their own accommodations, but the employer must provide cleaning materials. The employer should post information about preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the accommodations, including information outlining best practices, in a language that is understood by the worker.

Throughout the duration of the self-isolation period, the employer must ensure that the accommodations allow workers to avoid contact with adults over the age of 65, or those with medical conditions who are at risk of serious illness. As an example, a caregiver to an elderly person must be housed in separate accommodations during the self-isolation period.

Jacqueline Bart and Annsley Kesten can be reached at BARTLAW LLP, Canadian immigration, Barristers and Solicitors. BARTLAW is a leading full-service immigration firm in Toronto.

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