COVID-19 Testing at Work: Here’s How to Do it Right

As the number of daily infections surge, you may consider providing COVID-19 testing at your workplace. Ontario employers who would like to do so, should familiarize themselves with the guidance on private testing issued by the Ontario Ministry of Health.

Here’s what employers should do …

Lay down a clear plan

Assess whether you have the necessary resources (space, equipment, personnel, funds) for safely conducting private COVID-19 tests.

Before you develop and implement a COVID-19 testing policy, it is important that you seek legal advice on issues of human rights, privacy, employment law and occupational health and safety.

You are also required under the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) to make the reasons for a medical test clear and ensure prior, informed consent.

You must also factor in the costs you’ll incur when you offer optional testing at your workplace. These would include testing equipment, personal protective equipment, laboratory fees, and overhead costs.

You’d also have to chalk out the procedures related to testing.

Ask yourself: How often will you test your staff? Would you also offer this optional test to frequent visitors? Do you have a response plan in place in case an employee tests positive?

Follow health ministry guidelines

Make sure to go through the Ontario Ministry of Health’s guidance on private testing.

As per the Ministry:

  • You must inform your local public health unit that you would be setting up optional private COVID-19 testing at your workplace – before you start testing.
  • You can test only using one of the types of tests considered legally valid as per the COVID-19 Testing Guidance.
  • Ensure all personal and health data you collect is stored, used, and disclosed as per the law, including the Personal Health Information Protection Act.
  • All tests must be processed by a licensed laboratory. All molecular test results, including the POC molecular test results, must be keyed into the Ontario Laboratories Information System (OLIS) in accordance with the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA).
  • All positive COVID-19 test results must be reported to your local public health unit.
  • You must cooperate with your local public health unit in case of a potential workplace exposure to the virus or for an outbreak investigation.

Share your COVID-19 testing policy with staff

Once you have created a legally compliant testing program and policy, share it with your staff. Be transparent about the procedure and answer any questions they may have.

Let them know your policy on storing and disposing their personal data. They should also be aware of the procedures to follow in case they test positive. You could also include this information in your COVID-19 testing policy.

Point out the benefits of workplace testing

Communicate to your staff how workplace testing can limit the risk of COVID-19 infection in your workplace. It will ensure the safety of not just your staff and customers, but also the people in their social circles, i.e, their family and friends.

Testing may help you stay open for business. It is important that you, the employer, too, get tested regularly to set an example for your staff.

Consider paid sick leave for self-isolating staff

Your staff may be reluctant to take the test if they are worried about losing their pay during isolation. You may want to consider offering paid sick leave to employees who test positive.

Under the OHRC, organizations have a duty to accommodate (to the point of undue hardship) people who are negatively impacted by COVID-19 test results.

This would also encourage more employees to opt for the workplace COVID-19 test.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do…

Push asymptomatic employees to take the test

Though recommended, testing is not mandatory for employees unless they have COVID-19 symptoms. Or if they are at risk of exposure due to being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms.

Be careless with your staff's personal data

It is advised that employers collect only as much information as needed. While you can share statistical information on the number of positive cases, you shouldn’t identify people.

We recommend that you get legal advice on whether your testing policy complies with the privacy law in your province.

Let positive cases report to work

If you are aware of a worker’s symptoms and still allow the employee into the workplace, you may be held liable.

When an employee gets a positive result, they need to isolate at home for 14 days. You could either provide partial or full paid leave to the employee during this period.  

Make it clear to all your employees that if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms, they must stay home till they get tested to confirm.

Forget about other Public Health measures

Just by its itself, workplace testing will not be effective in preventing COVID-19. According to the Ministry of Health, testing does not replace public health measures, such as symptom screening, physical distancing.

You must continue to protect your workplace by implementing sanitization procedures, physical distancing, staff screening and contact tracing. These would ensure your staff stays safe even if there is a positive case in your workplace.

Do you need help creating a COVID-testing policy for your workplace?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

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