Coronavirus Caution: Returning to the Workplace in the Time of COVID-19

It has been two months since much of BC’s labour force saw their working conditions change dramatically, or saw their work stop altogether. Now, as the province starts gradually re-opening, employers and employees have a lot to consider.

In compliance with WorkSafe BC, employers must prove they can provide a safe environment for workers before reopening.

Here are some tips to make returning to work safe for everyone:

  • Make a plan. A formal plan outlining in writing how the health and safety of all employees will be maintained in the workplace is required by WorkSafe BC, and will help keep employers and employees accountable. All employees must be trained on the plan.
  • Talk to your employees. Everyone’s situation is different, so talk to each employee individually and discuss their specific concerns about returning to the workplace.
    • Be flexible. Some employees may have family members with respiratory illnesses that make them particularly vulnerable, or have lost childcare. Offering telecommuting may be a good option for your staff, and would reduce the number of people in the workplace, making distancing easier.
  • Anyone experiencing symptoms must stay home! Do not permit any staff or customers to enter the workplace if they have cold or flu symptoms (such as a cough, fever, or respiratory difficulty).
  • Require physical distancing. Spread out workstations, and have employees work independently where possible. Customers should have designated, spaced out waiting areas, and stay distanced from workers.
    • Staggering shifts can help minimize the number of people on the worksite at one time.
    • Limit the number of people in common areas. Post signs indicating how many people can be in the kitchen, for instance, at the same time.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Masks and gloves should be offered to employees, especially those who interact with the public. Plexiglass barriers are also a good option for areas where distancing is not possible.
  • Clean the workspace thoroughly and regularly. Common areas and surfaces should be sanitized often to minimize the risk of transmission.
    • Maintain adequate cleaning supplies, so you have the tools you need to properly sanitize the workplace.
    • Require employees to do their part to reduce the spread, by mandating handwashing before and after using common areas, after interacting with the public, and upon entering the workplace.
  • Encourage employees to ask questions and voice any concerns. Your workers may see things you do not, and should be made to feel comfortable bringing forward any health and safety issues they encounter. Communicate to your employees the person or people to whom these concerns can be raised.
  • Reopen when you are ready. Take the time to implement policies to protect your staff, your customers, and your business before asking employees to return to work, or allowing the public to enter the premises.

Remember that providing a mentally healthy workplace is just as important as providing a physically healthy workplace. Click here to read about promoting mental health in the workplace.

Employees always have the right to refuse unsafe or unhealthy work. Make sure your organization complies with WorkSafe BC’s requirements for safe and healthy workplaces!

For a complete guide to safely reopening workplaces, check out this WorkSafe BC page.

Morgan Thomas, BA (Dtn.)
Project Management & Customer Experience Coordinator