Protecting workers

This document provides information to help you:

  • understand more about screening for covid 19 at your workplace
  • make decisions about the use of rapid antigen screening in your workplace

This is not intended to provide information on the logistical aspects of implementing workplace rapid antigen screening.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases like covid 19.

As part of fulfilling this obligation, as an employer, you must assess your workplace to determine what you need to do to protect the health and safety of your workers, including how to minimize the risk of transmission of covid 19.

Read the guide on developing a covid 19 workplace safety plan to:

  • help you understand the risks related to covid 19 in your workplace
  • develop control measures
  • identify concrete actions you will take to make your workplace safer

All requirements set out in the covid 19 Guidance: Considerations for Rapid Antigen Point-of-Care Screening, or updated guidance as it becomes available, must be followed when using rapid antigen testing as part of workplace screening.

Screening to help reduce transmission

As an employer, you must continue to use a variety of measures to control potential exposure to covid 19 in your workplace. These may, include:

  • reducing in-person interactions as much as possible, for example, having all workers who are able to - work from home
  • using control measures such as masking to decrease the risk of exposure in the workplace

Because screening helps keep infected workers and others from entering the workplace, it can help to reduce possible transmission at work. Screening cannot rule out the possibility that a person is infectious with covid 19.

Make sure all workers know:

  • to stay home if they have symptoms that are new or unexplained (for example, not caused by an existing condition)
  • how they can access job and financial supports that are available to them

Know the symptoms to look for and plan for how you will screen workers and others who enter your workplace. You must make sure that your screening process follows the instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, including for screening after vaccination.

Make sure people working as screeners receive information and instruction on how to perform this work safely and what to do if a person must be excluded from the workplace

Types of screening

Question-based screening

This type of screening involves questions about symptoms and exposures. The answers are used to determine if a person is more likely to be infected.

A person has passed question-based screening if they have none of the symptoms or exposures asked about in the screening tool.

Question-based screening may be done in-person or remotely. Some ways of screening include:

  • telephone
  • web tool or app
  • email
  • paper-based

Rapid antigen screening

This screening method involves collection of a sample from an individual that is analysed to see if it contains proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A person has passed rapid antigen screening if they get a negative result on the rapid antigen test. Individuals with a positive result obtained through a rapid antigen screening do not require a PCR test to confirm the result.

If you use rapid antigen screening at your workplace, you must:

  • follow the Ministry of Health requirements
  • only use rapid antigen screening as the second step in your screening process, after the person has passed question-based screening

Rapid antigen screening may be used for anyone who is fully vaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Individuals who have previously been diagnosed with, and cleared of, covid 19 infection may resume rapid antigen screening 30 days after their covid 19 infection (that is, 30 days after the date of their initial positive result).

Worker self-monitoring

Encourage workers to monitor their own symptoms at all times, including while at work. You should:

  • ensure workers know what to do if they start to experience symptoms at work
  • let workers know where to find the online covid 19 self-assessment tool
  • ask workers to use the self-assessment tool at home if they have any symptoms and to follow the instructions
  • make sure workers know who their workplace contact is and how to get in touch with them in case the self-assessment, public health or their health care provider tells the worker to self-isolate

Screening workers

Employers must actively screen all workers, including anyone who has been vaccinated, using question-based screening before they enter the workplace at the start of their shift.

You can:

Active screening means that as an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that no worker enters the workplace unless it is confirmed they have completed the screening and the result indicates that they are allowed to enter the workplace.

You must have a process in place so that the screening results are used to determine whether workers may enter the workplace. Consider what records you will keep so you can show how your process works and that you have been following it.

Businesses and organizations must maintain a record of the date and time that workers were in the workplace and their contact information for a period of at least a month. This information may be requested by public health for contact tracing.

Screening non-workers

Consider how you will screen clients, customers and patrons.

Where possible, actively screen non-workers using the covid 19 customer screening tool. In some workplaces, there may be requirements for active screening of non-workers. Proof of vaccination may be required as part of the screening process for non-workers in some settings.

You may be able to screen non-workers:

  • by phone or online before they arrive
  • using a process similar to the one that you use to screen your workers

At a minimum, you must have passive screening of non-workers entering your workplace.

This means:

  • you must post signs with clear instructions at all entrances that tell people how to screen themselves
  • the signs should include the screening questions and instruct people with symptoms or high-risk exposures not to enter the premises
  • people are assumed to have screened themselves and followed the instructions
  • you do not need to ask anyone to report the result of their screening
  • a person should be told not to enter if they volunteer the information that they did not pass the screening assessment

If you are considering using rapid antigen screening for non-workers, getting legal advice before developing or implementing a program can help you understand legal issues related to:

  • human rights and accessibility
  • privacy
  • health care consent

Screening results and next steps

Whether your screening process is a single step (question-based only) or has two steps (question-based followed by rapid antigen test), the following actions apply.

When screening is passed

If a worker or non-worker passes all steps in the screening (has none of the symptoms or exposures asked about in the screening tool and gets a negative result on the rapid antigen test, if used) they:

  • may enter the workplace at that time
  • must continue to follow all public health and workplace control measures, including:
    • wearing a mask
    • maintaining physical distance
    • hand hygiene
  • should continue to self-monitor for new symptoms
  • should follow their workplace’s reporting procedure, if they are a worker and develop symptoms during their shift

When screening is not passed

If a worker or non-worker does not pass any part of the screening (has one or more of the symptoms or exposures asked about in the screening tool, or gets a positive result on the rapid antigen test, if used) they:

  • may not enter the workplace at that time
  • must self-isolate immediately
  • may seek medical advice by contacting their health care provider or Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000)
  • must follow all directions they are given by public health officials

Employer responsibilities related to screening results

Employers must only allow workers to enter the workplace if they have passed all parts of the screening being used.

If available, provide information to workers about a potential exposure and where it took place. Don’t give out information that will identify the infectious person.

Having a system in place to help keep track of which people had close interactions with an affected worker can help you identify who may have been exposed if someone in your workplace develops symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19.

You could include information such as:

  • dates and times of interactions
  • approximate length and frequency of interactions
  • full names
  • contact telephone numbers
  • addresses (for workers) or the name of the visitor’s business

Some businesses may be required to collect and maintain contact information. Information on minimum requirements can be found in the Reopening Ontario(A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act. Employers must follow public health measures and direction.

Other considerations for rapid antigen screening

Employers must make sure that all requirements described in the covid 19 Guidance: Considerations for Antigen Point-of-Care Testing, or updated guidance as it becomes available, are being followed when using rapid antigen testing as part of workplace screening.

Employers should tell their local public health unit if they will be doing rapid antigen screening.

Employers using rapid antigen screening should develop a policy related to covid 19 testing. This should be based on independent legal advice, which may include recommendations on issues of:

  • human rights and accessibility
  • labour and employment law
  • privacy
  • health care consent
  • occupational health and safety

The OHSA and the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and their respective regulations do not address mandatory testing of workers by employers. There may be other statutes and considerations that apply to a mandatory testing policy in workplaces.

This document does not replace the OHSA or the ESA and their regulations or any other legal requirements and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspectors and officers apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.