Due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, on April 8, 2021 the BC Provincial Health Officer (PHO) has announced new measures to expedite the closure of workplaces that see COVID-19 transmission, effective April 12, 2021. As part of this order, the PHO has delegated specific powers of the Public Health Act to WorkSafeBC prevention officers to help health officials manage workplace transmission.
The finalized written order was released a few days after the announcement and is available here. There were a couple of discrepancies between the details of the announcement and the terms of the Order, so we will focus on the information provided in the Order first and include details from the announcement in the section following.
The Order includes a number of protocols that will be used when a “public health officer reasonably believes that one or more persons has been infected with COVID-19 while in a workplace and that it is necessary for the workplace or part of the workplace to stop operating to prevent further transmission of infection (…).”
The Order delegates WorkSafeBC prevention officers with the authority to serve notice of a Workplace COVID-19 Cases, Cluster and Outbreak Closure Order made by a medical health officer on a person who is affected by an Order by:
a. personally serving it on the person who is affected; b. by posting a copy of the Order at a conspicuous location at the workplace;
The Order has no end date, and provides a template WorkSafeBC officers should use for the Notice of a Workplace COVID-19 Cases, Cluster and Outbreak Closure Order. Once served, the officer notifies the public health officers.
A couple of points to note when looking at the announcement and written Order:
the public health officer can issue a closure order (Workplace COVID-19 Cases, Cluster and Outbreak Closure Order) if ONE or more persons have been infected in a workplace (versus the previously mentioned 3 or more)
there is no mention of the length of the closure order (previously announced 10 or more days)
there is no mention of how closure can be restricted to only parts of the workplace for some more complex workplaces
no exceptions due to overriding public interest are addressed either
there’s no further infromation on what will be required to re-open the workplace, whether WorkSafeBC officers will conduct multiple inspections etc.
“Starting Monday, when the public health investigation determines that transmission has occurred at the workplace, an order may be issued closing the workplace for 10 days or longer to stop the transmission. In the case of complex workplaces (e.g., large construction sites), the closure may be restricted to those parts of the workplace where transmission has occurred.”
“Public health will also assess whether there is an overriding public interest to keep the workplace open. This would apply to such locations as police stations, fire halls, health-care facilities, schools, shelters, the ferry system, public transportation and distribution hubs of necessary goods such as food and medicine, pharmacies and grocery stores.”
“When a closure is ordered, WorkSafeBC will serve the closure notice and will then support the workplace to review and enhance safety plans, as needed. A list of workplaces that have been closed and the date of their reopening will be posted on the health authority websites. In all cases additional outbreak control measures, including contact tracing and immunization will continue under public health direction.”
Under the PHO order, the powers delegated to the WorkSafeBC prevention officers will be limited to serving a closure order on a business with a known COVID-19 outbreak. The closure order will be in effect for a period of 10 days or more, as prescribed by the health authority’s medical health officer on a case-by-case basis, and served by WorkSafeBC officers when directed to do so by a provincial medical health officer.
Recommendations for Employers
COVID-19 Safety Plans: all employers should review their COVID-19 Safety Plan and ensure it is in compliance with the WorkSafeBC guidelines, and that it is being followed closely by all;
Remote work: as part of the increased measures announced on March 29, 2021, the PHO included direction for employers to continue to actively support remote working options wherever operationally possible.
We will continue to update this article with further information once available.
Note to Readers: This is not legal advice. If you are looking for legal advice in relation to a particular matter or drafting of workplace vaccination policy, please contact Chris Drinovz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Drinovz is an experienced employment and labour lawyer in Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey & South Surrey, a Partner at KSW and Head of the Employment & Labour Group at KSW Lawyers (Kane Shannon Weiler LLP). Chris has been assisting local businesses with workplace issues since 2010. His expertise covers all facets of the workplace including wrongful dismissal, employment contracts, workplace policies, and WorkSafeBC matters, including occupational health & safety. Chris is on the Executive of the Employment Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association BC, and a Director for Surrey Cares and Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.
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