(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.

Just Posted

File photo
Paramedic training returning to Castlegar

Emergency Medical Responder and Primary Care Paramedic training to take place in Castlegar

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

South Okanagan MP Richard Cannings wants to see dental coverage for all Canadians. (courtesy of Pixabay)
OPINION: South Okanagan MP fights for universal dental care

One in three Canadians have no dental coverage, with COVID making it even worse

COVID-19 cases are once again dropping across the West Kootenay. Illustration: BC Centre for Disease Control
Ten new cases of COVID-19 in Nelson area

Numbers are steadily dropping across the West Kootenay

Dep. Fire Chiefs Rich Piché (left) and Stephane Dionne said they were disappointed that only one person showed up at the George Evans fire hall’s recruitment drive Tuesday evening, May. 11. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks Fire/Rescue says rural fire hall at risk of closing

Home insurance could spike across North Fork if George Evans fire hall loses fire protection status

Conservation Service Officer Kyle Bueckert holds a gold eagle that was revived from acute rodent poisoning Monday, May 12. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks residents, Conservation Service Officer save poisoned eagle

CSO Kyle Bueckert released the eagle into the wild Thursday, May 13

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

The Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana. The dam created the Koocanusa Reservoir, which straddles the B.C./Montana border. (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Outflow at Libby Dam to be increased

Volume increase to aid migration and spawning conditions for endangered white sturgeon in the Kootenai River

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Most Read