COVID-19 and the Workplace – What’s Next?

On March 10 BC announced significant changes to public health orders. It includes the repeal of the BC indoor mask order along with eased restrictions on long-term care visitors, faith gatherings and overnight camps for children and youth. The announcement also sets a pathway to lift additional COVID-19 restrictions, including the BC Vaccine Card requiring proof of vaccination, on April 8.

For BC businesses, this may mean an adjustment to existing vaccination and masking policies. As before, the province left it to individual business to decide for themselves what steps, if any, to take.

While information remains scarce and could change any day, we wanted to provide you with some high-level guidance when determining next steps through the FAQ below. Remember, we are here to help should you wish to dive deeper into your unique circumstances.

Q: Can I continue to require my employees to wear a mask while at the workplace?

A: As of March 11, wearing a mask became a personal choice in most indoor public spaces. Masks are still required in some situations like visiting healthcare facilities or on federally regulated transportation like airplanes or trains. Masks are encouraged in some settings like public transportation.

The province has stated that individual businesses can continue to require masking at the workplace, however, it is no longer a requirement that business do so. When considering a masking policy, employers should take their own unique circumstances into account and keep workplace safety as a priority.

Importantly, employer must permit individual employees to wear a mask if they choose to do so.

Q: Can I continue to require my employees be vaccinated?

A: As with masking, as of April 8 employers may transition from a COVID-19 safety plan to a communicable disease prevention and response plan, as per WorkSafeBC guidance. Employers may continue to have a vaccination policy in place based on their own unique circumstances and should still update their communicable disease plan and stay committed to having good COVID-19 safety practices.

As a reminder, the BC Human Rights Commissioner has stated that COVID-19 vaccine should only be mandated in circumstances where other, less intrusive measure are inadequate.

For additional information we recommend following WorkSafeBC’s guidance for specific industries.

Q: I currently have some employees on leave due to lack of compliance with our vaccination program – do I need to now allow them back into the workplace.

A: If the employer chooses to end a vaccination requirement policy, then employees who have been on leave due to lack of compliance with the policy should be allowed to return to the workplace.

Q: Can I continue to ask customers to wear a mask on my premises?

A: Yes. Private businesses may refuse entry to customers not wearing a mask, similar to restaurants that require customers wear a shirt and shoes before dining (no shirt, no shoes, no service). It is encouraged that you provide masks at the entrance for those customers who don’t have one.

As before, employers have a duty to accommodate customers and workers who may not be able to wear masks for disability or other medical reasons.

Q: Can my employees refuse to work at the workplace if all masking requirements are repealed?

A: An employer’s responsibility is to provide a safe workplace for their employees. That requirement is no longer applicable where masks are concerned and employers will not need to make special accommodations for employees who feel unsafe in an unmasked workplace.

Your Engaged Assignment: Take the time to review your organization’s vaccine and masking policy and ask yourself do they still make sense given the current health orders. It’s also a good time to refresh that communicable disease prevention plan, WorkSafeBC’s resources is a good place to start.

There are still lots of questions to be answered as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of the workplace. If you need help deciding what’s next for your workplace, reach out, we are here to help.