(Pixabay)

Flouting COVID-19 health orders off the clock could lead to workplace discipline: lawyers

Employers are also keenly aware of how workplace spread of the virus could affect their reputation

Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace — including termination in the most flagrant cases.

“There is a shared obligation between employers and employees to maintain a safe workplace, and safety includes you don’t bring in a potentially fatal virus into the workplace,” said Hermie Abraham, founder of Advocation Professional Corp. in Toronto.

In addition to the obvious risk to others’ health, employers are also keenly aware of how workplace spread of the virus could affect their reputation — especially if it’s a setting that relies on public confidence, for example, food processing, she said.

Abraham added there is ample precedent for off-work behaviour costing workers their jobs, including a utility employee being fired for lewdly heckling a reporter in 2015.

But she suggested that cases of brazen disregard of public health guidance, such as jetting off to Florida for spring break and not quarantining, are in the minority.

It’s much more likely that someone feeling a bit unwell goes into work because he or she doesn’t want to risk losing a paycheque. Calls have been growing across the country for governments to bring in mandatory sick pay so that workers aren’t put in that predicament.

“I think that by and large everybody is following the rules and trying to do the best that they can and we are still building a plane while flying.”

Robert Erickson with Kahane Law in Calgary said risky behaviour outside work can be tough to prove.

“The only way you would know if they’re just blatant about it and they’re putting it on their social media,” said Erickson.

Any punishment should be proportional, he said. For instance, if someone works in close contact with vulnerable individuals and is reckless in avoiding the virus in his or her spare time, termination could be appropriate because the stakes are so high.

Jeff Hopkins, a partner with Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto, said termination would be an extreme step in most cases.

“A written warning would probably be the first step in response. It makes the employee acutely aware that their actions are reckless and that they have the potential to endanger their co-workers,” he said.

Daryl Cukierman, a partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, also in Toronto, said it’s helpful for employers to have workplace policies to reinforce public health guidelines.

“And importantly, of course, they must effectively communicate the policy to their employees, specifically letting them know what the expectations are and what the potential consequences are for a breach of the policy,” said Cukierman.

Discipline might not be warranted at all, he added.

“An employer might look to use the incident, for example, as an educational tool.”

Energy services company PTW Canada Ltd. disclosed an outbreak at three of its western Alberta locations earlier this month.

Alberta Health said Friday that 18 cases have been linked to the outbreak, with 15 confirmed to be more transmissible variants. One person has died and the rest have recovered.

In a statement, PTW said it has had safety protocols exceeding Alberta Health Services guidance since the start of the pandemic.

Those measures include a daily questionnaire, mandatory reporting of symptoms, remote work for non-essential personnel, physical distancing, handwashing, masking and suspension of employee travel.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has said it’s believed the outbreak began with someone returning from out of province, but it’s not clear whether it was an employee.

PTW has declined to say whether anyone has been disciplined but said in a statement that a third party has been hired for a comprehensive review.

Also this month, a Manitoba public servant was demoted from an interim assistant deputy minister role after travelling to Las Vegas to referee an Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Premier Brian Pallister issued a directive to political staff and other appointees in early February to avoid leisure travel or face possible termination.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penelope the cat showed up safe and sound at her owner’s porch after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks. (Photo courtesy of Reuniting Owners with Animals Missing)
Penelope, cat and friend of the Victoria HarbourCats, returns home safe

The cat had an after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushes B.C. government to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

Saanich police detectives are investigating a reported sexual assault that occurred near Glanford Park on the evening of Dec. 29, 2020 and have shared an artist’s rendering of the individual. (Image via Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Saanich police release sketch of suspect sought in December sexual assault

Anyone with information asked to contact detectives, Crime Stoppers

The Compost Education Centre is hosting its annual spring plant sale on May 8 at 1216 North Park St. Physical distancing protocols will be in effect during the sale, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Black Press Media file photo)
This weekend: Tenth annual spring plant sale hosted by Victoria Compost Education Centre

The non-profit event Saturday, May 8 will feature numerous varieties of plants, live music

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
West Shore proud owners of B.C.’s first electric school bus

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

OPINION SIG
SOOKE HISTORY – A woman in business: Caroline Throup

Elida Peers | Contributed Who was it that said “Women in Business”… Continue reading

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read