COVID case management in the workplace

Employees testing positive for COVID-19 or identified as high-risk contacts are creating concern within workplaces and with staff and employers.

Employers are becoming genuinely concerned for the safety of their staff. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers and managers must ensure the safety of their workforce. However, this does not include any form of case or contact management, or exclusion policies beyond Public Health recommendations.

COVID-19 is a Reportable Disease and the management of cases and contacts is the exclusive role of Public Health. Employers are reminded that they have no role in case and contact management unless called upon by Public Health for assistance. Specifically, employers must not interfere with Public Health’s case and contact management. This includes making decisions on isolation, notifying other staff about the identity of a case, referring people to testing, requesting personal information from the case, challenging Public Health staff about isolation dates and testing recommendations, or asking Public Health staff to provide rationale and detail about case management decisions.

In addition to supporting individuals and preventing transmissions of the virus in the community, public health investigations also support workplaces and prevent transmission and outbreaks in these occupational settings. Examples of these workplaces or organizations include big-box retail outlets, restaurants, factory settings, farms, clinics, and hospitals, etc. While the Ministry of Labour remains responsible for workplace safety and occupational illnesses, Public Health manages infectious disease cases and outbreaks in these facilities. During the investigation of every case, we evaluate the risk of transmission in the case’s workplace. We manage cases and contacts related to these occupational settings. With all local cases so far, we have successfully ensured that no transmission of COVID-19 has occurred to co-workers or customers.

Depending on the complexity of the investigation, we sometimes call on the collaboration of the employer. On occasion, employers may feel it is in the best interest  of both employees and the workplace to undertake actions that go beyond the direction of Public Health. However, actions that fall outside the scope of those supported by Public Health can sometimes cause undue fear, anxiety and stress in the population. We urge collaboration in these situations to ensure a consistent and united approach while containing the virus.

There have been instances where employers have provided inaccurate information and miss-direction to their employees. This may be in conflict with Public Health recommendations and possibly putting individual’s health in jeopardy. This contradictory information can result in the erosion of trust with both the employer and Public Health, isolation and testing errors, breaches of personal health information privacy, and increased workload for Public Health staff.

Living in small rural settings makes privacy that much more critical. Public Health manages all cases and contacts with the utmost confidentiality. Names are never shared, and exact locations of positive cases are not made public to protect the client’s identity. The Contact and Case Management Team does a thorough investigation and manages all contacts, independent of each other. Clients that test positive have no requirement to tell anyone of their diagnosis. When we call contacts, we only disclose that “You have been exposed to a COVID-19 case”, we do not name the case. Unless individuals choose to disclose their status (case vs contact) to others, no one else will know their status. Although we operate in the public arena, we are legally bound to maintain strict privacy.

It is critical that we all understand and not stray outside our individual roles during this challenging time. All of us simply doing as directed will ensure the organized and thorough investigation of all cases and contact, and ultimately, ensure the safety of the residents of Grey-Bruce. 

Please see our newly released video highlighting What is Contact Tracing