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Updated: Ontario's mandatory COVID-19 screening tool for workplaces

Author(s): Kelly O’Ferrall, Allan Wells, Carolyn Denault

Sep 29, 2020

Last updated: March 10, 2021

For further information on the information provided below or other labour and employment matters please contact a member of our National Employment Group.

Effective September 25, 2020, all businesses in Ontario were required to start screening workers and essential visitors who enter their premises.   Initially, the Chief Medical Officer of Health (the “CMO”) published a screening tool that included a list of questions and screening requirements for workers and essential visitors.

Since September 2020, the screening requirements for businesses have evolved. In particular, on January 7, 2021 and February 10, 2021, the Ontario government updated the screening requirements, adding new symptoms and questions to the mandatory screening question list. Then, on March 5, 2021, the Ontario government amended the Rules for Areas in Stages 1, 2 and 3, specifying (among other things) that certain businesses open to the public must actively screen all individuals (including workers, customers, and visitors) before they enter the premises in accordance with the advice, recommendations and instructions of the Office of the CMO.

The CMO’s current screening recommendations for workplaces are set forth in the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Businesses and Organizations (Screening Workers) [PDF] (the Screening Tool). The Screening Tool currently applies to all workers. Note that the Screening Tool is not intended for healthcare workplaces and certain other non-health care workplaces where screening is already in place (such as congregate living settings). Although the Screening Tool was initially intended to apply to workers entering the workplace, it could (and, arguably, should) also be adapted for use with customers, visitors, and other persons entering an employer’s premises.

Mandatory screening questions

The Screening Tool includes screening questions that must be asked of all workers  before they enter the work environment. If the individual does not “pass”, they must be instructed to self-isolate and call their health care provider or Telehealth Ontario. The screening questions are as follows (new items and changes introduced after the Screening Tool was initially published in September 2020 are noted below as “New” or “Updated”):

  1. Do you have any of the following new or worsening symptoms or signs? Symptoms should not be chronic or related to other known causes or conditions you already have.
    • Fever or chills
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Cough or “barking (croup)” (Updated)
    • Sore throat, trouble swallowing
    • Runny nose/stuffy nose or nasal congestion
    • Decrease or loss of smell or taste
    • Pink eye
    • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
    • Not feeling well, extreme tiredness, sore muscles
    • Headache that is unusual or long-lasting (New)
    • Falling down often (New)
  2. Has a doctor, health care provider, or public health unit told you that you should currently be isolating (staying at home)? (New)
  3. In the last 14 days, have you been identified as a “close contact” of someone who currently has COVID-19? (Updated)
  4. In the last 14 days, have you received a COVID Alert exposure notification on your cell? If you already went for a test and got a negative result, select “No.” (New)
  5. In the last 14 days, have you travelled outside of Canada? If you are exempted from federal quarantine as per “Group Exemptions, Quarantine Requirements” under the Quarantine Act, select “No”. (Updated)

If the worker answers “YES” to any of the above questions, they have not passed and must be advised not to enter the workplace (however, there is an exception for an essential worker who crosses the Canada-US border regularly). This is the case even if the workplace is outdoors or partially outdoors.

Employers must also advise workers that if the answers to any of the screening questions change throughout the day, the worker should inform their employer of the change, self-isolate at home immediately, and contact their health care provider or Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000). The Screening Tool provides that businesses and organizations must maintain records of the dates and times workers were in the workplace and their contact information, retain such records for a period of at least a month and that such information may be requested by the local public health unit for contact tracing purposes.

The Screening Tool states that, if a worker’s duties involve travelling to multiple locations (e.g., delivery truck drivers), the employer bears the responsibility to conduct the screening, and not the receiving business organization or individual. However, the worker may be screened again at the next place of entry.

Active vs. passive screening

The Ontario government has updated its policies regarding pre-screening and has now mandated that screening must be active. “Active screening” means that the employer must collect and review information to actively determine whether a person may enter a workplace. This is contrasted with “passive screening”, which occurs when employees assesses their own risk factors and decide for themselves whether they may enter the workplace or not.

Active screening can be done in person or remotely by telephone, internet, email, or through an app prior to entry. Ontario government policies also require that employers actively screen every person who enters their workplace for work purposes. Screening of workers should occur before a worker’s shift or visit to the workplace, and employers should also consider actively screening more than once during a shift or visit.

Employers must use all of the Screening Tool’s questions in their active screening process. If an individual does not pass the screening (i.e., if the individual answers “YES” to any of the questions), the employer must advise the individual that they cannot enter the workplace (including outdoors/partially outdoor workplaces), must go home, self-isolate and contact their health provider or Telehealth Ontario for further instructions.

The Ontario government’s policy as of March 10, 2021 also states that if active screening of non-workers entering the workplace is not possible, employers must post signage instructing that people with symptoms shall not enter. Even if active screening is possible, employers should still post clear signage at all entrances that showcase the screening questions and instructions.

Age matters

The Screening Tool provides two separate questionnaires: one for those 18 years and older, and one for those younger than 18 years. The questionnaires are identical except for two listed symptoms of COVID-19. Specifically, “pink eye” and “falling down often” are listed as symptoms in the questionnaire for those 18 years and older, but not for those younger than 18 years. This is likely due to the differing ways COVID-19 presents itself in people of varying ages. It is important that employers take note of the differing questionnaires if they have workers who are both younger and older than 18 years of age.