Health and safety

Coronavirus at Work: Information Employers Should Know

February 06, 2020

News of the novel coronavirus (officially 2019-nCoV, but frequently referred to as ‘coronavirus’) is flooding nearly every news outlet. However, despite the frequency of stories about the virus, many businesses are still lacking accurate, actionable information on it. This has many business owners and managers worried. The coronavirus has rapidly affected thousands of people in China, and with confirmed cases identified in Canada, it has created a widespread fear for Canadians concerned about an outbreak.

Whenever there is a major disease outbreak or pandemic, employers must understand that as employees become more aware of information about the virus, they will become increasingly concerned about their health and safety, including concerns tied to their workplace. If this concern becomes shared among employees, a state of worry can ensue. Although it is not usually necessary to quarantine or close down an entire workplace, the spread of viruses, like coronavirus, should be taken seriously. So how concerned should we be about coronavirus?

For now we know that the number of confirmed cases in Canada is limited, and although Canadian health officials expect to see more coronavirus cases, they remain confident that the risk to Canadians in general is extremely low. Despite reassurances from health officials, we all know that fake news and incorrect information have the power to quickly permeate social media feeds, putting the public at unease. Rather than seeking out information from unregulated news sources or Facebook posts, the best way to get updates and accurate information on coronavirus is through credible sources like the government or trusted health officials. Here are a few trustworthy sources you can access for up-to-date news on coronavirus:

The government of Canada

The government of Ontario

The city of Toronto

  • With multiple confirmed cases reported in the city of Toronto, Toronto Public Health has been releasing regular statements from Toronto’s medical officer of health, updating the public on the progress of coronavirus. Currently the risk to Toronto residents is low and Toronto Public Health will continue to actively monitor the situation.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

  • The WHO is continually monitoring developments of coronavirus, and the level or risk the virus presents to the public. As of their January 29, 2020, report, coronavirus risk assessment is rated as high on a global level. What does that mean for us?
  • The WHO measures the level of risk based on the severity of the situation, the likelihood of an occurrence to spread, and the capacity to cope with and manage the situation. Risk assessments focus on factors like who is likely to be affected, the population at risk, and the level at which the risk assessment is taking place, such as local, national, international, or global. When a risk is high, it means that attention is needed from the highest level of global health authorities, and protocols and control structures are required to prevent significant consequences.

Professional Skills

Symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the common cold or flu and include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. But because symptoms can take up to two weeks to manifest, it could be difficult to detect right away. If employees exhibit signs of sickness, it is always best practice to encourage them to stay home to prevent any type of illness from spreading through the workplace. However, employees who are showing symptoms should seek medical attention immediately if they have recently travelled to Wuhan, China, come into contact with someone who has recently travelled to Wuhan, or have been in contact with someone who has been exposed to coronavirus.

Employers must be prepared to address questions and concerns from employees who travel internationally, as well as those who haven’t travelled but are concerned about the public spread of the virus. Although these situations are atypical, there should be procedures in place to address ‘what if’ situations in the event of a pandemic outbreak.

Workplace pandemic planning should have protocols for managing risks related to employees who travel internationally or have been potentially exposed to contagious viruses or diseases, including cancelling or rescheduling business travel, a plan for short- or long-term absences, and attending to employee concerns of working with or interacting with someone who has contracted or been exposed to the virus or has returned from travelling to a location where infected individuals are present. Organizational pandemic planning should include steps for mitigation, creating awareness, preparedness, continuity of operations, response, and recovery.


In the workplace, one of the most important things employers can do to protect the health of employees is mitigate the risk of the virus spreading by informing their employees and promoting infection control hygiene practices. Viruses can spread from person-to-person contact. Based on the WHO’s standard recommendations to protect yourself and others from exposure and transmission of coronavirus, all employees should:


  • Wash their hands after coughing or sneezing, caring for sick individuals, before and after food preparation, after using the restroom, and after handling animals;
  • Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and dispose of used tissue in a closed bin immediately;
  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness, fever, or cough;
  • Avoid contact with others and seek medical care early if they have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing;
  • Seek medical attention if experiencing symptoms, and share travel history with their health care provider; and
  • Practise food safety, avoiding consumption and cross-contamination of raw or undercooked animal products.

An employer must protect the health and safety of their employees while on the job, and when any sort of major pandemic, crisis, or emergency happens, employers must be prepared to handle the situation at all levels.

Still wondering how this could affect your organization? Click here for answers to some of the frequently asked questions our team of senior HR advisors is receiving. We will continue to update the page as we know more about the coronavirus. 

FAQ Guide

Note: This information is intended as best practice guidance, not as medical or legal advice. Information about the coronavirus changes rapidly. Always refer to a public health authority for medical advice, and consult legal counsel regarding legislative concerns.



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