(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

Tents set up under the Trail Skywalk earlier this spring. Photo: Trail Times
Message from Concerned Trail Citizens: ‘A Necessary Response’

” … if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.”

“Think on These Things” is a column written by retired Creston pastor Ian Cotton. (File photo)
Think on These Things: Everyone is Invited

“Tell them there is healing, cleansing for every soul…”

Swiss guard at Vatican City. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is a minor armed forces and honour guards unit maintained by the Holy See that protects the Pope and the Apostolic Palace, serving as the de facto military of Vatican City. Photo: Etienne Girardet on Unsplash
News from The Vatican

Pope Francis issued a law decreeing that women can be installed in the lay ministries of lectors

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

Student-nurse Kendra Waterstreet administers the Pfizer vaccine to Litia Fleming at the Waneta Plaza vaccination clinic in the old Zellers buiding. Photo: Jim Bailey
Trail vaccination clinic readies for adults age 40+

B.C.’s state of emergency is extended through the end of day on May 25

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Most Read