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COVID-19: Here’s How Employers Can Protect Vulnerable Staff


As you update your health and safety policies to reopen amid the current pandemic, it is important to factor in high-risk employees as well. You may have to introduce special measures to protect the health of your vulnerable staff.

Employees who have pre-existing medical conditions and/or a weak immune system fall under the high-risk category. Vulnerable employees also include those of advanced years who may get severely ill if exposed to COVID-19.

Under human rights legislation, employers are obliged to accommodate employees with disabilities to the point of undue hardship. A disability could include a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19. Undue hardship is when accommodating a worker’s needs is not possible as it is too expensive or could create health or safety risks.

Here’s how we advise you support high-risk employees when they return to work:

1. Provide alternative work

You may want to consider offering your high-risk employees alternative roles if their previous work involves risks, such as interacting with customers or field work. For instance, you could give a field operative a desk job. It is important that you get your employee’s consent before changing their role. If you alter major terms of employment — such as job duties or work hours — without any contractual right or employee’s consent, you may be liable to a constructive dismissal claim.

2. Introduce special safety measures

If it is not possible to offer other work, consider special safety measures for your high-risk staff. These measures would be in addition to the government safety guidelines and the controls you’d put in place after conducting a workplace risk assessment.

Ask yourself how you could make their working conditions safer? For example, you could provide office shuttles for high-risk staff who don’t have private vehicles and use public transport. Or you could change their work hours to times when there are fewer people using public transport, such as early afternoon to late evening. You could create separate work areas (and lunch areas) for high-risk staff. Make sure these spaces are regularly disinfected and sanitized.

3. Let your high-risk employees permanently work from home

The most effective safety control is to eliminate the hazard altogether. If it is still risky for your vulnerable staff to return to work, it is best to let them work from home. But you need to make sure they have the tools (phone, laptop, ergonomic furniture) needed to set up a hazard-free home office for the long-term. The Occupational Health and Safety legislation still applies to staff working from home. You have an obligation to ensure the home office set-up of your staff is safe. Read more on how to ensure the safety of remote workers here.

Do you need help creating a COVID-19 safety plan for your workplace?

For health and safety policies during the pandemic, call an expert at 1 (833) 247-3652.