British Columbia reintroduces COVID-19 Safety Plans as Omicron rages on
As COVID-19 caseloads break record after record in British Columbia, the province has reintroduced the requirement for businesses to implement COVID-19 Safety Plans on January 7, 2022.
In particular, the rate of transmission, short incubation period, and high rate of infection associated with the Omicron variant, has prompted the province to require businesses to put contingency plans in place in the form of reissued COVID-19 Safety Plans, including having employees work from home where possible. This unfortunately means that despite many plans for a return to the office in 2022, businesses should rethink their operational plans for the time-being and prepare for anticipated absences due to illness and self isolation, and take renewed steps to minimize the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Despite the many strides made with respect to testing and vaccination in 2021, the province’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, discussed on January 4, 2021 a refocus on pro-active measures to minimize transmission of the disease over the contact tracing and other more reactionary measures implemented to date. Dr. Henry has emphasised the need for multiple layers of protection and cautioned against treating any one measure (including rapid resting or masking) as a panacea. Social distancing (including having employees work at home, staggering shifts, staggering breaks, and limiting capacity), use of barriers, use of appropriate PPE protocols, and appropriate personal and physical hygiene were all raised as important measures for managing this phase of the pandemic.
Notably, Dr. Henry raised the issue of workplace vaccination. Although she did not address mandatory vaccination as a condition of employment (or generally, as recently suggested by the Canadian Federal Health Minister, Jean-Yves Duclos), the Provincial Health Officer did highlight the importance of understanding the vaccine status of workers in a workplace. Because individuals who are fully vaccinated are subject to shorter self-isolation periods and are expected to have less serious outcomes, knowing the vaccine status of employees was cited as important to business contingency planning.
WorkSafeBC has announced that it will update its guidelines in response to these latest measures soon. In the meantime, British Columbia employers are encouraged to review their previous COVID-19 Safety Plans and guidance and consider whether these plans remain sufficient to address yet another new reality.
For further information, please consult our Coronavirus Resource Centre or contact any member of our DLA Piper Canadian Employment and Labour Law Service Group, who will ensure that you are acting upon the most up-to-date information.
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