How businesses and employees can stay safe while operating during COVID-19

There have been outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canadian workplaces. As provinces and territories re-open their economies, we will continue to see the spread of COVID-19. Learn what you can do as an employee or an employer to avoid risks while protecting yourself, your family and your community.

This is not applicable to workplaces where health care is provided. First responders and health care workers should follow the occupational health and safety and infection prevention and control practices within their workplace.

On this page

A prepared workplace

For tips and information on operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, refer to the guidance developed under the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. This hub addresses many types of workplaces, such as:

Guidance and resources by province or territory

Use reliable sources for credible information about COVID-19 and your workplace. Along with Public Health Agency of Canada information, refer to your provincial or territorial public health authority as you reopen or operate.

Employees

You should know about, understand, and follow the policies and practices in your workplace. If needed, ask your supervisor for more information.

If you’ve been in close contact with someone known or suspected to have COVID-19, contact your local public health authority. They can help you determine if you should continue working. Do this even if you don’t have symptoms.

Stay home if you’re sick

  • Monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If you develop symptoms, stay home and isolate yourself immediately:
    • even if your symptoms are mild
    • even if you have just one symptom
  • Contact your health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice, even if you’re an essential worker.

If you become sick at work 

  • Tell your supervisor and ask about the proper procedure to follow in your workplace until you can return home safely. This may include:
    • isolating in a designated room or area
    • avoiding public transit to get home
  • Once home, isolate yourself:
    • even if your symptoms are mild
    • even if you have just one symptom
  • Contact your health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice, even if you’re an essential worker.

Practise good hygiene

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Wear a non-medical mask or face covering when you can’t consistently maintain a 2 metre distance from others.
  • When coughing or sneezing:
    • cover your mouth and nose with your arm or tissues to reduce the spread of germs
    • immediately dispose of any used tissues into the garbage and wash your hands

Protect yourself and others 

  • Avoid touching surfaces or objects that people touch frequently.
  • If you’re at a higher risk of developing serious illness, stay at home as much as possible and avoid crowded spaces. People who are at higher risk include:
    • older adults
    • people with medical conditions
    • people with a compromised immune system
  • If you live with someone at higher risk of severe disease, consider physical distancing in your home.
  • When using public transit to get to work, try to avoid:
    • crowded places
    • travelling during peak hours
  • If commuting to work in a private vehicle with others:
    • keep the windows down
    • limit the number of passengers
    • consider having all passengers wear non-medical masks or face coverings
  • Know how and when to safely use:
    • any personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended for your workplace
    • a non-medical mask or face covering in your workplace.
  • Follow your workplace’s policies and your local health authority’s advice

Keep your workspace clean 

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often, such as:
    • desks
    • phones
    • keypads
    • cash registers
    • work surfaces
    • elevator buttons
    • restaurant tables
    • credit/debit card machines
    • customer service counters
    • door handles and doorknobs
  • Use products that clean and disinfect all at once, such as commercially available disinfectant solutions or wipes, when available.
  • Disinfect frequently used electronic devices with alcohol (for example, alcohol prep wipes) daily.
    • Make sure your devices can withstand the use of liquids for disinfecting.

Keep your distance

  • Keep at least a 2 metre distance from other people, including coworkers and customers.
  • Increase distance between desks, tables and workstations.
  • Use physical barriers like plexiglass screens.
  • Limit or cancel activities that require close contact, such as team meetings and group meals.

Take care of your mental health  

  • Talk to your family, friends and coworkers about your concerns and theirs.
  • Ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Seek support from an employee assistance program if your workplace has one.
  • Consult resources for mental health and emotional well-being.

Employers

Types of risks in the workplace

Close interactions

COVID-19 most commonly spreads through respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, laughing or talking) during close interactions (within 2 metres). COVID-19 can be spread by infected individuals who have mild symptoms, or who have not yet or who may never develop symptoms.

Workplaces with a higher number of contacts are presumed to have greater risk

  • Do employees have close interactions with clients or other employees throughout their shift?
  • Do clients have close interactions with other clients?

Person-to-person spread becomes more likely the longer you’re in close contact with someone (time spent in close contact may add up  over multiple interactions)

  • Do employees have prolonged close interactions with clients or other employees?
  • Do clients have prolonged close interactions with other clients?

A crowded setting is presumed to have greater risk

  • Is the business/workplace crowded (that is, high density of people) on a regular basis?

A confined indoor space is presumed to have greater risk

  • Is the workplace indoors or outdoors? If indoors, can windows be opened?

Touching something with the virus on it

COVID-19 can also be spread through touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

A higher frequency of contact with high-touch surfaces (door handles, service counters, card payment machines) is presumed to have greater risk

  • Do employees frequently have contact with high-touch surfaces (that is, frequently touched by others)?
  • Do clients frequently have contact with high-touch surfaces?
  • Does the set-up of your workplace enable employees/clients to wash and/or sanitize their hands before and after contact with high-touch surfaces (for example, access to hand hygiene stations/supplies)?

Employees and clients in higher risk groups

COVID-19 can cause more severe illness among people who are 65 and over, and those who have compromised immune systems or other underlying medical conditions.

  • Are you aware whether your employees belong to any of these higher risk groups? NOTE: Employers cannot assume they know the health status of individual employees and are not necessarily entitled to this information. Employees may choose to confidentially disclose health status to employers and accommodations can be made accordingly.
  • Do you have clients who are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, older adults)?

Inconsistent hygiene practices

COVID-19 spread can occur when personal preventive practices are not consistently followed.

  • Are your clients able to follow hygiene practices such as washing hands frequently, respiratory etiquette, and identifying when they are feeling ill and staying home? For example, young children are less likely to be able to carry out these practices.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has developed additional guidance to help businesses:

  • conduct risk assessments
  • put strategies in place to reduce risks

Reducing risks in the workplace

Separating people from each other, reducing contact with shared surfaces and using physical barriers are more protective ways to mitigate risk. Less protective measures rely on individuals to consistently follow personal practices, such as:

In some settings, physical distancing or separation may not be possible. Use a "layered" approach, by combining multiple measures, to maximize safety and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

The following examples of risk mitigation measures are not exhaustive. You are encouraged to find creative and adaptive ways to reduce risks in your workplace that align with public health advice and are respectful of workers.

Keep sick customers and employees out of the workplace

  • Clearly tell employees and customers that they shouldn’t enter your workplace if they’re not feeling well, even if their symptoms are mild.
    • Post accessible signs or have someone at the entrance to remind people.
    • Consider screening employees for signs of COVID-19  before they enter the workplace.
    • Consider asking clients if they are ill or have symptoms of COVID-19 when making and confirming appointments.
  • Remind employees to monitor themselves for symptoms at work and at home.
    • Require that employees stay at home if they’re ill
    • They should only return to the workplace after  isolation criteria have been met, in consultation with the local public health authority or healthcare provider
  • Ensure that workers know what to do if they become ill at work.
  • Identify a space where a sick employee can isolate away from others until arrangements are made for them to go home.
    • Plan for how they will get home without using public transit.
  • Adjust personal and sick leave policies so employees can:
    • stay home when ill
    • undergo COVID-19 testing
    • quarantine (self-isolate)
    • take care of children or someone who is ill
    • take sick leave without obtaining a medical note

Promote healthy practices

Promote and facilitate personal preventive practices. Everyone plays a part in making workplaces safer, including employers, employees, contractors, clients, and all others who interact with workplaces/businesses.

  • Tell staff and customers what you’re doing to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Post signs encouraging healthy practices, such as:
    • hand hygiene
    • coughing or sneezing into your arm or a tissue
    • practising physical distancing
    • Ensure signage is appropriate for the reading level and language preferences of employees and clients.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol near high-traffic areas and frequently touched surfaces.
    • Ensure accessibility for those with disabilities or other accommodation needs.
  • Keep all washrooms well stocked with:
    • liquid soap
    • paper towels or hand dryers
  • Encourage regular handwashing breaks.
  • Educate and train staff on preventing COVID-19.
  • Wearing a non-medical mask or face covering is recommended for employees, clients and customers when they can’t consistently maintain a 2 metre distance from others.
    • Consult with your occupational health and safety team and local public health authority before introducing mask-wearing policies to the workplace.
  • Identify shared surfaces and areas where people have frequent contact with others.
    • Clean and disinfect these areas more often.
  • Discourage in-person group meetings and informal gatherings.
  • Promote increased environmental cleaning of employees' work environments
    • Provide sanitizing wipes so employees can clean their own workstations
  • Support and encourage employees to take care of their mental health
  • Consider having employees sign in and out so that they can be contacted in the event of a workplace exposure.
  • Keep emergency contact information for staff current.

Redesign spaces and business models to promote physical distancing and limit contact

Maintaining at least a 2 metre distance from other people (physical distancing) is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness.

  • If possible, adopt contact-less business models, such as:
    • Serving customers over the phone or online.
    • Offer curbside pickup, drive-through or delivery.
  • Consider work arrangements that reduce social contact, such as:
    • telework
    • flexible hours
    • staggered start times
    • more use of email and teleconferencing
    • providing services outdoors
  • Help people practise physical distancing by:
    • increasing the distance between people, such as lineups, restaurant tables, desks and workstations
    • changing the flow of foot traffic, where possible, to encourage people to travel in one direction through the workplace
    • Use visual cues to encourage 2 metre distance (for example, accessible signage, floor markings)
  • Limit the number of in-person interactions your employees and customers can have with others in your workplace.
    • Allow fewer workers and customers in your workplace at one time.
    • Close or restrict access to non-essential common areas
    • Stagger work hours or work days to reduce number of contacts
  • Identify a space where employees or clients can be isolated from others if they develop symptoms and are not able to leave the workplace
  • Reduce the number of common surfaces that need to be touched. Examples include:
    • propping doors open
    • offering waste containers that don’t need to be touched
  • Restrict access to non-essential shared equipment
  • Offer contactless payment methods (minimize use of cash) if possible. The Bank of Canada advocates that retailers continue to accept cash to ensure Canadians have access to the goods and services they need. Refusing cash purchases outright will put an undue burden on those who depend on cash and have limited payment options. When cash is used for payment, use safe handling practices.
  • Use physical barriers between workers or customers (for example, cubicles or plexiglass screens).

Work-related travel

  • Cancel or postpone all non-essential travel.
  • Essential workers who need to cross the border regularly are exempt from having to quarantine (self-isolate) when they return to Canada.
    • They may continue to work as long as they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19.
    • They should self-isolate when not at work.

Increase ventilation

  • Open windows if possible and if weather permits
  • Move work outside when possible

Maintain a clean and safe workplace

Reduce risks from exposure to surfaces that are frequently touched by others by:

  • Establishing proper cleaning and disinfection protocols.
  • Clean and disinfect high-traffic work areas and frequently touched surfaces more often.
  • Clean and disinfect essential shared equipment before and after use.
  • Establishing a cleaning and disinfection protocol to be followed if an employee develops symptoms.
  • Using approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a drug identification number (DIN).
    • A DIN is an 8-digit number given by Health Canada that confirms the product is approved for use in Canada.
      • For more information on other approved disinfectants and other products, refer to our searchable Drug Product Database.
    • If an approved disinfectant isn’t available due to supply issues, use a diluted bleach solution.
  • If available, choosing products that clean and disinfect all at once, such as wipes or commercial disinfectant solutions.
  • Keeping cleaning and disinfecting products available for staff to use

Reduce risk for people who are higher risk of severe illness

  • Provide special accommodations for staff and customers who are at higher risk of severe illness or who live with people at higher risk.
    • Allow employees to telework, if possible
    • Offer dedicated shopping hours for seniors and other vulnerable people.
    • If possible, provide equitable accommodations by reassigning roles and tasks for employees

Support the mental health and workplace wellness of your workers

Non-medical masks and face coverings

Masks may not be suitable for all types of occupations

When considering non-medical masks or face coverings policies at your workplace:

  • Consult first with your local public health authority and, if you have one, your occupational health and safety team
    • Public health officials will make recommendations based on a number of factors. Recommendations may vary from location to location.
  • Consider the occupational requirements of your employees.
  • Evaluate whether wearing a face covering within your workplace might cause physical injuries by:
    • interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly
    • becoming accidentally lodged in equipment the wearer is operating
  • Consider the potential psychological impacts of non-medical masks or face coverings on other employees or clients (for example, design/construction of the mask, messaging, etc.).

Personal protective equipment

Non-medical masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE).

Although all efforts should be made to preserve the supply of medical masks for healthcare settings, there may be some workplace settings for which PPE, such as medical masks, may be a more appropriate choice for the protection of the workers.

These settings may include:

Should employees wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like gowns, gloves, or facial protection?
  • Recommendations for the use of PPE are based on risk assessments of specific environments and risk of exposure.
  • Refer to guidance provided by your provincial/territorial occupational health organizations. If your workplace has a joint occupational health and safety committee representative, involve them  when considering risks.
    • Consider risks associated with specific activities
    • Consider various sources of infection, such as a person who is ill, or a contaminated surface
  • If PPE is recommended, employees must be trained on the appropriate use of PPE and the sequence for putting it on and taking it off. Employers should offer PPE in different sizes to ensure proper fit for each employee. Misuse of PPE can increase the risk of infection (for example, through contact with potentially contaminated PPE).
Access masks and personal protective equipment

Emergency preparedness and response

Download a PDF guide to creating a business continuity plan from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Communications templates and printable signage

Other business reopening toolkits and resources

Guidance for specific types of workplaces

Retailers
Construction
Food production or processing
Transportation

Related links

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