On Monday, in an effort to curb the increase in cases of COVID-19, Toronto Public Health (TPH) issued directions to businesses and organizations that are permitted to remain open during the provincial lockdown under the Reopening Ontario Act. The additional measures put in place by TPH to help curb the spread of COVID-19 include:
- Immediately notifying TPH of two or more people who test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days that are connected to the workplace.
- If two or more people test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days that are connected to a workplace, the employer must provide a designated contact to work with TPH to immediately implement any additional required measures to reduce virus spread.
- Providing contact information for all workers within 24 hours to support case and contact tracing, and notify the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development and any other relevant government authorities.
The full list of measures put in place by TPH can be accessed here.
As of January 7, 2021, all workplace outbreaks will be published weekly. TPH will disclose workplace outbreak information where a public health risk exists when there is:
- evidence of sustained transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace;
- a significant proportion of staff have been involved in the outbreak;
- significant duration of the outbreak and the approximate time for a positive case to generate a second and third positive case, or cases; and,
- a workplace large enough that the risk of privacy concerns are mitigated.
In a statement to CBC, TPH indicated that its benchmark for disclosing which businesses are experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak will be 20 employees testing positive. The spokesperson stated that “[t]his threshold helps us to ensure that we don’t disclose any individual-level health information in order to protect the privacy of the employees.”
All businesses operating during a lockdown must have a written safety plan in place. Screening employees for COVID-19 is an important component of the safety plan. Employers must actively screen every employee before they enter the workplace at the start of their shift.
Employers will need to ensure that their screening tools gather the required information in a manner that protects the privacy of their employees, while at the same time complying with their disclosure obligations to their local health unit. Given the COVID-19 case numbers throughout the province, it will come as no surprise if other municipalities adopt workplace outbreak disclosure requirements similar to those issued by TPH.
The Lerners Privacy, Information and Data Security team is available to assist employers in developing appropriate screening tools and are available for consultation on COVID-19 outbreak disclosure obligations.