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Overview 

The health and safety of workers is a top concern during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under Ontario law, employers have the duty to keep workers and workplaces safe and free of hazards.

Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.

The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development investigates all complaints related to workplace health and safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and is works closely with the Ministry of Health and Public Health Ontario to provide support, advice and enforcement, as needed.  

Workers should always follow standard procedures for cleaning and disinfection, unless your employer provides additional instructions. 

Failure of the employer to comply with the OHSA and its regulations could result in a stop-work order upon inspection by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

Learn more about how to protect yourself during COVID-19.

Guidance for employers

Under Ontario’s labour laws, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases.

Requirements for all workplaces under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

OHSA requirements for all employers include:

  • ensuring workers know about hazards by providing information, instruction and supervision on how to work safely
  • ensuring supervisors know what is required to protect workers’ health and safety on the job
  • creating workplace health and safety policies and procedures
  • ensuring workplace parties follow the law and the workplace health and safety policies and procedures
  • ensuring workers wear the right protective equipment and are trained on how to use it
  • taking all precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers from being hurt or getting a work-related illness

Read the guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to understand all of your health and safety rights and responsibilities.

Contact one of the health and safety partners for help understanding the OHSA.

Assess your workplace 

Employers must assess the workplace to determine what they need to do to protect the health and safety of their workers.  

Employers should assess the workplace in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative.

This supports the workplace internal responsibility system(IRS), which ensures everyone in the workplace has a role to play in keeping workplaces safe and healthy (such as employer, supervisors, workers, and health and safety representatives/joint health and safety committees). 

Under the law employers must provide their workers with:

  • information
  • instruction
  • supervision

What to do about potential COVID-19 illness or exposure at work

If a worker shows symptoms of a respiratory illness, they should be encouraged to remain at home and contact:

For additional information, visit Public Health Ontario.

The employer is required to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstance to protect the health and safety of workers, and do a risk assessment to determine what parts of the jobsite and what other workers the affected worker would have had contact with.

Based on this risk assessment, the employer may be required by public health to:

  • send co-workers who were exposed to the worker home. Ask them to self-isolate and self-monitor and report any COVID-like illness to their employer
  • shut down the job site while the affected workplace area and equipment are disinfected

If an employer is advised that a worker has an occupational illness due to an exposure at the workplace or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the employer must give notice in writing within four days to:

Additionally, the employer must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three days of receiving notification of the illness.

The employer does not need to determine where a case was acquired. If it’s reported as an occupational illness, the employer must report the case.

Guidance for workers

As with all workplace hazards, employers are responsible for taking every reasonable precaution to protect workers’ health and safety. This includes protecting them from exposure to infectious diseases at work.

The Ministry of Health and Public Health Ontario continue to provide updates and guidance on precautions that employers should take to protect their workers.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations set out requirements for the use of various types of personal protective equipment where workers are exposed to hazards.

Use personal protective equipment

A worker must use or wear the personal protective equipment that an employer requires. The employer must also comply with any relevant regulatory requirements for that personal protective equipment.

Concerns about personal protective equipment

If you have workplace health and safety concerns about personal protective equipment (such as masks), because they are, for example, absent or have a defect that puts you or another worker at risk, you must report your concerns to your supervisor or employer. Questions about the voluntary use of such equipment should also be directed to your employer or supervisor.

You should also raise the issues or concerns with your:

  • joint health and safety committee
  • health and safety representative in your workplace (if one exists) 

Learn more about filing a workplace health and safety complaint.

What to do if someone at work has respiratory symptoms 

If a worker shows symptoms of a respiratory illness, like a cough or difficulty breathing, they should stay home. 

If a worker has concerns that a co-worker has respiratory symptoms, the worker should raise concerns with a:  

  • supervisor 
  • joint health and safety committee
  • health and safety representative (if one exists)

This will help the employer ensure that workers have taken all reasonable precautions in the circumstances to protect themselves and other workers.

Employers must promote hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette in the workplace.

Working with someone who might have COVID-19

All workers in Ontario, including those working with patients or clients who are being investigated for COVID-19, have the right to:

  • know about hazards in their workplace and to be trained on how to protect themselves from harm
  • help identify and resolve workplace health and safety concerns
  • refuse unsafe work

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including: 

  • ensuring that the equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided and maintained in good condition 
  • providing information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker 
  • taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker 

Your right to refuse work

The Occupational Health and Safety Act provides a worker with the right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe.

If you refuse work that is unsafe, you must promptly report the circumstances to your employer or supervisor.

Certain occupations have a limited right to refuse work if the danger in question is a normal part of the job or if the refusal would endanger the life, health or safety of another person.

This includes persons employed in certain health care workplaces, first responders and correctional services workers.  

These workers cannot refuse work when either: 

  • the dangerous circumstance is inherent in their work or is a normal condition of their employment 
  • their refusal to work would directly endanger the life, health or safety of another person  

In these circumstances, the employer and supervisor still have a duty to take every precaution reasonable to protect the health and safety of all workers.

Teachers do not have the right to refuse work where the circumstances are such that the life, health or safety of a pupil is in imminent jeopardy. Learn more about teacher work refusals.

It is important that the following workplace parties are aware of the procedure that must be followed for a work refusal:

  • employers
  • supervisors
  • workers
  • members of the joint health and safety committee (JHSC)
  • multi-site JHSCs (MJHSCs)
  • health and safety representatives

Learn more about the right to refuse work.

Making a complaint or resolving a dispute

We encourage you to try to resolve your dispute internally. 

If concerns remain, a worker can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Health and Safety Contact Centre by calling toll-free at 1-877-202-0008.

An inspector may visit the workplace to determine if the employer is complying with Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations.  

Learn more about filing a workplace health and safety complaint. 

Updated: September 16, 2021
Published: May 19, 2020