Importance of communicable illness policy amid rising health concerns

By Michelle Ann Zoleta

Law360 Canada (December 6, 2023, 2:31 PM EST) --
Michelle Ann Zoleta
Michelle Ann Zoleta
As communicable illnesses, particularly COVID-19, continue to surge across the nation, with Ontario experiencing the highest spike in cases in over a year, and other provinces, grappling with increased influenza and RSV cases, the need for a comprehensive workplace policy has never been more critical. Establishing a communicable illness policy is an essential step in proactively limiting the spread of infections and maintaining a healthy work environment.

In many cases, communicable illnesses are caused by infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses that spread directly or indirectly through person-to-person contact. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has broadened the scope of what is considered a communicable disease. Examples of that include COVID-19 and SARS. This makes it necessary for employers to implement a strategic approach to protect their staff and ensure business continuity.

Several provinces have already taken steps to address this pressing issue. In October, B.C. reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing in patient care facilities, along with the implementation of a communicable disease prevention policy. This policy focuses on risk reduction, encouraging measures to support workers displaying symptoms of a communicable disease and discouraging them from reporting to work when feeling ill.

Similarly, Ontario has announced a new policy for communicable diseases under WSIB. This policy ensures that workers are entitled to benefits for communicable illnesses contracted during the course of employment. Effective Dec. 1, 2023, the policy addresses standards of proof and evidence gathering, streamlining the claims process for communicable illness cases.

Moreover, Ontario’s long-term care homes have reinstated the mandatory use of respiratory masks, highlighting the need for measures to protect vulnerable people.

The primary objective of communicable diseases policy is to establish preventative measures and procedures, creating a framework for a healthy workplace. It places a strong emphasis on identifying requirements to control infection spread while maintaining safe business operations. Employers have the responsibility of taking every precautionary measure to ensure the well-being of their staff.

To effectively address the risks, employers should conduct a thorough risk assessment of their workplace. This enables them to evaluate the level of risk and implement appropriate measures, aligning with the overreaching goal of limiting the spread of illness within the organization.

Beyond policy implementation, employers can take additional proactive steps to further mitigate the spread of illness. Encouraging employees to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu and emphasizing the importance of regular hand hygiene are simple yet effective measures that contribute to a healthier workplace.

In conclusion, the proactive adoption of a communicable illness policy is paramount in the current health landscape. By implementing comprehensive strategies and fostering a culture of health and safety, employers can play a pivotal role in limiting the spread of illnesses within the workplace, ultimately safeguarding the well-being of their employees and maintaining business continuity.

Michelle Ann Zoleta is health and safety advice manager at Peninsula Canada.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.  

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