Plans have emerged for some industries and businesses to return to work, while many others await further information and the “green light” from their provincial governments. While both law and medical data are at the forefront of any decision, each individual business will have its own unique factors to consider, including whether they are a large or small business, whether they have the facility and capability to safely return some or all of their staff, and possibly whether returning to the workplace now, or at some later date in the future even makes sense — yes, some businesses are considering permanent work from home (WFH) practices!

Applicable to all businesses, however, will be the occupational health and safety (OH&S) legislation of their province. Each province is loosening restrictions, and providing varying levels of guidance, but any breach of a government order could expose an employer to fines, and potentially increased OH&S compliance risk.

The safest way to ensure employees do not contract or spread COVID-19 is to eliminate or reduce physical contact between employees. Employers should consider a staggered return to work (RTW) plan that complies with ongoing regulations and guidelines. But what if an employee refuses to return to work alleging they don’t feel safe, or what if an employee is especially vulnerable due to an underlying health condition? Can the employee refuse to come into work, or will they lose their job?

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