COVID-19 Prevention for Workers

Protecting Yourself and Others

Everyone has a role to play in keeping the workplace healthy and safe. Workers can do their part to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Learn what you can do to stay safe while also protecting your family, your co-workers, and the community.

Two workers wearing masks who are collectively thinking about COVID-19 protective factors.

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I’m heading back to work. What can I expect?

Everyone in the workplace plays a role in keeping each other safe. Upon returning to work, you will be introduced to your employer’s COVID-19 health and safety plan. The plan will outline steps to reduce exposure, procedures to monitor exposure and health, and what to do if anyone reports or shows signs or symptoms. Employers and supervisors must do everything under the circumstances to put the necessary control measures in place, inform workers about these measures, and make sure that workers follow procedures. Workers have the duty to follow these steps to protect themselves and others. Keep in mind that:

  • Some work practices may be modified to reduce how long and how many people are in contact with each other. Your workplace may set up cohorts, or stagger work hours and workdays.
  • Your employer will monitor for positive cases of COVID-19 in the workplace. Expect to be screened regularly.
  • Frequent communications may be necessary, on what everyone in the workplace needs to do to keep safe. This includes working from home. Ask questions if you are unsure of what you need to do.
  • Your employer will also provide information on any updated policies on sick leaves, leaves of absence and accommodation.
  • You should report concerns to your supervisor or employer, health and safety committee, or representative. Ask for details about the control measures that are being put in place to protect workers and let them know if you do not feel the control measures are enough.

What can I do to protect myself and others from COVID-19?

  • Stay informed, be prepared and follow public health advice.
  • Monitor yourself for symptoms. Your local public health authority has self-assessment questionnaires available online.
  • If you are at home and have symptoms or feeling ill, stay at home and away from others until you have met the requirements to stop isolating. Contact your health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice.
  • If you share a residence or bunkhouse with other employees and have symptoms or feeling ill, tell your employer. They will immediately arrange for you to be quarantined from your colleagues. They will also contact the local public health authority.
  • If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your local public health authority and follow their guidance. You must also tell your supervisor or employer.
  • If you become ill while at work:
    • Immediately isolate yourself from others in a separate area and wear a face mask (preferably a surgical mask).
    • Tell your supervisor that you are feeling unwell and are going home.
    • Avoid taking public transit (e.g. bus, train, taxi, rideshare) if possible.
  • If you are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, limit the time you spend outside of your home in the community and avoid crowds as much as possible. Discuss with your employer if there are other arrangements (such as remote work) to reduce your risk.
  • Keep a physical distance of 2 metres from others when outside of the home, including at work.
  • Practice good hygiene:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
    • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
    • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm.
  • Follow advice from your local public health authority and your employer on using a non-medical mask in the workplace.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched or shared surfaces and objects often with approved disinfection productsthis is a link to an external website.
  • Attend training as required by your employer.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as required by your employer.
  • Make sure you understand how to work safely. Speak with your supervisor if you have questions or concerns.
  • Report health and safety concerns or hazards to your employer or supervisor immediately.

What must my employer do to help protect me from COVID-19?

Employers must:

  • Take all reasonable precautions and control measures to protect you.
  • Provide you with education and training about potential hazards and the measures being taken.
  • Make sure you have access to proper training on using any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) or cleaning products.
  • Investigate health and safety complaints reported by you or other workers.
  • Follow guidance from the local public health authority.
  • Complete risk assessments. They must consult with the health and safety committee or representative, workers that perform the tasks, and other people who can complete risk assessments.
  • Make sure new measures do not create new hazards (opening a fire door, blocking emergency exits).
  • Evaluate changes to make sure that measures are protecting you and update them as needed.
  • Evaluate potential impacts of COVID-19 measures on emergency preparedness. and communicate how to respond safely in an emergency. They must tell you how to respond safely in an emergency, including any changes to procedures or your role.
  • Communicate any changes on how the company will deliver goods and/or services.

What are some specific steps my employer and I can take to reduce the risk of exposure?

Physical distancing, engineering and administrative controls

  • Keep 2 metres from others at all times.
  • Work from home, if possible.
  • Follow any limits about the number of people allowed in an indoor space or common area.
  • Follow one-way routes, signs and other markings in the workplace.
  • Ask your supervisor or employer about physical barriers when distancing cannot be consistently maintained (e.g., using plexiglass or partitions higher than head height).
  • Ask your supervisor or employer about the ventilation system and its maintenance.
  • If you are assigned to a team or cohort where you will work with the same group of people and take breaks together, stay away from others outside your group.

Cleaning and disinfecting

  • Follow the cleaning and disinfecting schedule and document when cleaning has taken placethis is a link to an external website.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as computers, shared equipment, tables, chairs, door and window handles, light switches, etc.
  • Notify your supervisor or facility staff when washrooms require soap or paper towels.
  • Use a household or commercial disinfectant to destroy or inactivate the virus.
    • Use approved hard surface disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN). This number means that it has been approved for use in Canada.
    • Read and follow manufacturer's instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., wear gloves, use in well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used).
    • If approved household or commercial disinfectant products are not available, hard surfaces can be disinfected using a mixture of 5 mL of bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite) and 250 mL of water. Test surfaces before using a bleach solution, as bleach can be corrosive. Follow instructions for safe handling of bleach on the label or safety data sheet.
    • If liquids can be withstood, disinfect high-touch electronic devices (such as touch screens, keyboards, tablets, smartboards) with alcohol or disinfectant wipes.
  • Use disposable cleaning cloths and gloves suitable for the cleaning and disinfecting product being used. Check the product label and consult the safety data sheet for information.
  • Dispose of garbage at least once a day. Wear disposable gloves when handling garbage.
  • Make sure you know where to find or who to ask for the supplies and personal protective equipment you need to do your job safely.

Hand and respiratory hygiene

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) when soap and water is not available.
    • at the start and end of the day, or when re-entering the building
    • before eating or drinking
    • after touching shared items
    • after using the washroom, and
    • after handling garbage.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into the bend of your arm, not your hand. Dispose of any used tissue right away into a no-touch plastic lined garbage bins and wash your hands.
  • Do not share items such as phones, tablets, or equipment, unless they can be cleaned or disinfected between users.
  • Bring your own pre-filled water bottle. Do not share your water bottle.

Building preparation

  • Your employer may inspect and update the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to provide increased air exchange rates, reduce recirculated air, and improve filtration.
  • Discuss with your supervisor before adding a fan or heater, opening or closing doors or windows, or adjusting thermostats. Check your workspace to make sure heating and air vents are not blocked.
  • Your employer may also inspect and make changes to the building’s water system. Access to drinking fountains may be restricted or prevented.
  • There may be changes to washrooms including reduced entry, fewer toilets available, and paper towels instead of hand dryers.

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies, as required by applicable laws, your local public health authority and your employer.
  • Situations where PPE may be considered for protection from COVID-19 include:
    • Wearing gloves when cleaning as recommended by the product’s safe work instructions or safety data sheet.
    • Wearing disposable gloves when cleaning blood or body fluids.
  • Participate in education and training sessions on how to wear, remove, work with, and care for PPE, and understand its limitations.
  • Clean and disinfect any shared PPE before and after you wear it as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Wash hands before wearing and after removing gloves. Follow the appropriate steps for putting on and removing gloves.

Wearing non-medical masks or face coverings

  • Follow the recommendations for types of masks and age requirements as issued by your public health authority, employer, or other authority. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends non-medical masks or face coverings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Acknowledge that individuals may choose to wear masks regardless if there is a formal requirement.
  • Wear the mask correctly, making sure your nose and mouth are covered. Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Do not wear a mask if you are unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Change your mask if it becomes wet or soiled. For example, you may wish to bring a second mask, and store in a clean paper bag, envelope, or container that does not trap moisture. Store reusable soiled masks in a separate bag or container. Do not touch the outside of the mask while removing it and wash your hands when you are finished.
  • For some situations, not being able to see the person’s face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties. Consider using a transparent mask if appropriate.
  • If eye protection is required, face shields or goggles may protect the eyes and face from splashes or spray from others. Wear them along with a mask to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • If you have health-related concerns about wearing a mask, check with your healthcare provider.
  • Know the differences between respirators, surgical masks, and non-medical masksthis is a link to a PDF document. Know how to safely use non-medical masksthis is a link to a PDF document.
  • Do not allow the mask to be a hazard when performing other tasks or activities, such as getting caught in moving machinery or equipment.

Joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative

  • A joint health and safety committee or representative is either mandatory or subject to ministerial decision in all Canadian jurisdictions. Certain types of workplaces may be exempt from this requirement, depending on the size of work force, industry, incident record, or some combination of these factors.
  • Your committee may be called a joint health and safety committee, workplace health and safety committee or a combination depending on where you work.
  • Your committee consists of worker (employee) and management members. Generally, the management members are selected by the management (employer). The worker members are selected by employees or by the union (if there is one).
  • Learn more about the requirement for your workplace and how members are selected.
  • Member names and contact information are posted in your workplace.
  • While exact roles may vary by jurisdiction, in general, the committee assists the employer to:
    • Recognize workplace hazards.
    • Evaluate the hazards and risks that may cause incidents, injuries and illness.
    • Participate in development and implementation of programs to protect employees' safety and health.
    • Respond to employee complaints and suggestions concerning safety and health.
    • Ensure the maintenance and monitoring of injury and work hazard records.
    • Monitor and follow-up on hazard reports and recommend actions.
    • Set up and promote employee training and education programs.
    • Participate in safety and health inquiries and investigations, as appropriate.
    • Consult with professional and technical experts.
    • Participate in resolving workplace refusals and work stoppages.
    • Make recommendations to management about incident prevention and safety program activities.
    • Monitor the effectiveness of safety programs and procedures.

What can I do outside of work to help reduce the spread of COVID-19?

  • You and your co-workers can help protect each other by following good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, physical distancing, and other public health recommendations, and wearing non-medical masks when away from work and in the community.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are not in your social bubble.
    • Cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm or tissue and not your hands.
    • Monitor for symptoms, notify your supervisor and stay home if you are sick.
  • Do not come to work if you had close contact with someone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. Follow guidance from your local public health authority.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently at home and in your vehicle, and items such as cell phones if they are used or touched by others.
  • Avoid non-essential travel. Follow public health requirements on self-isolation if you do travel.
  • Consider downloading the COVID Alert exposure notification app.

Where can I get more information?

Check guidance on COVID-19 often as the situation evolves. Depending on your occupation, industry, jurisdiction, collective agreement, professional associations, and other factors, the requirements for your workplace may be different than what is provided on this page.

Document last updated on October 16, 2020

Your Rights and Responsibilities

Your employer is responsible for taking every reasonable precaution to protect you from illness and injury. You should know about, understand, and follow the policies and practices in your workplace. You may also have specific concerns about COVID-19 and how it affects your job. Learn more about your rights and responsibilities.

Two workers wearing masks who are collectively thinking about COVID-19 protective factors.

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What are my rights when it comes to COVID-19 and health and safety? Can I refuse unsafe work?

In general, you have three rights:

  1. The right to know about health and safety matters, including potential exposure to COVID-19, and to be provided with the information, instructions, education, training, and supervision.
  2. The right to participate in decisions that could affect your health and safety. You can participate on the health and safety committee, report concerns and provide input.
  3. The right to refuse work that could affect your health and safety and that of others. This right is typically exercised only after other steps have not resolved the situation. Follow the work refusal process that has been established for your jurisdiction.

What should I do if I’m concerned about my safety?

If you have concerns about the work you do:

  • Immediately report them to your employer, supervisor, health and safety committee or representative, or union (if you have one).
  • The employer or supervisor must respond to your concerns, and, if in agreement, take action to resolve them. If your supervisor disagrees with you, they should explain why they disagree.
  • If you are not satisfied with your supervisor's actions and if your workplace has a health and safety committee or representative, tell them about your concerns. They can investigate on your behalf and make recommendations to your employer.
  • If you feel the work is dangerous to yourself or other workers, you have the right to refuse work. Immediately inform your supervisor or employer that you are refusing unsafe work and wait in a safe area at the workplace.
  • Your employer is required to perform an investigation, in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative if you have one.
  • If you are not satisfied with the resolution of the investigation, the occupational health and safety regulator can be contacted to provide further guidance to you and your employer.
  • The employer has the right to temporarily reassign you to perform other work while the investigation is being conducted.
  • An employer may also assign another worker to perform the work you have refused, but only after advising them about the work refusal and the reasons.
  • At all times during a work refusal process, you can document your concerns about the dangerous situation or condition, people you have spoken to, and the outcome of any conversations.
  • It is important for you and your employer to follow this work refusal process to ensure the required steps are taken.

Can my employer make it a requirement to wear a mask?

Wearing non-medical masks or face coverings may be mandated by local government or public health authorities, based on the local rate of infection.

Under occupational health and safety legislation, your employer is responsible for taking all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. If guidance from the local public health authority recommends the use of masks, it may be reasonable for your employer to make this a requirement in your workplace as well, even if it is not a public space. Your employer will make decisions in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative, and workers. Risk assessments must be done to make sure this would not cause any other hazards.

  • Determine if there are other arrangements that can be made (such as working from home, installing physical barriers, rearranging workstations). It may be necessary to wear a mask while in common areas, but not in your workstation if you are more than 2 metres apart and physical barriers are present. If you have health-related concerns about wearing a mask, get guidance from a medical professional.
  • Your employer is required to work with you on accommodating your needs.

What should I do if I have stress and anxiety about returning to work?

What can I do if I do not want to go to work because I am at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19?

  • Talk with your supervisor about your concerns. Your occupational health and safety representative or union can also provide you with guidance and support.
  • Employers should be flexible and not overburden the health care system with requests for medical notes. However, you may need to provide information on your health issues due to your request to stay away from the workplace. You do not need to provide a medical diagnosis.
  • You and your employer must work together to identify any accommodations for a safe return to work.
  • Your employer must maintain confidentiality as much as possible and not disclose any personal information including your medical diagnosis to others.
  • Ask your employer about your options for a leave of absence. Apply for CERBthis is a link to an external website or employment insurance if available and if you meet eligibility requirements.

Document last updated on October 16, 2020