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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: Dec 1, 2020

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 must screen workers and essential visitors who enter their premises.  Workers include staff, students, contractors and volunteers, and essential visitors include those providing a service in the establishment who are not employees or patrons of the establishment (such as delivery, maintenance and contract workers). 

The Ontario Government announced this new requirement on Friday, September 25, 2020, with the amendment of O. Reg 364/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 3 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (the “Amendment”).  The screening requirements are part of a broader obligation to comply with any advice, recommendations, and instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health (the “CMO”) on screening for COVID-19.

The CMO’s specific screening recommendations are set forth in the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces (Businesses and Organizations) [PDF] (the “Screening Tool”). 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).

Curiously, the Screening Tool states that it is not intended to apply to patrons or customers entering the workplace. However, employers may make their own decisions as to whether or not patrons and customers should be screened prior to entering their establishments, keeping in mind their duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.

Mandatory screening questions

The Screening Tool includes screening questions that must be asked of all workers and essential visitors 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:

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.

  • Fever or chills
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Sore throat, trouble swallowing
  • Runny nose/stuffy nose or nasal congestion
  • Decrease or loss of smell or taste
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
  • Not feeling well, extreme tiredness, sore muscles

2. Have you travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days?

3. Have you had close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19?

If the worker or essential visitor answers “YES” to any of the above questions, they have not passed and must be advised not to enter the workplace.

Active vs. passive screening

The Ontario Government has updated their 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 decides for themselves whether they may enter the workplace or not.

Active screening can be done in person or remotely by telephone, internet, email, or an app prior to entry. Employers must actively screen every person who enters their workplace for work purposes (this includes volunteers, suppliers and contractors). Screening 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 the date of writing 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.