Lockdown is not enough, CEOs need to keep non-essential work remote: Dr. Warner
A Toronto doctor is urging employers to mandate remote work for all non-essential workers after a “completely healthy” man in his early 30s contracted a COVID-19 variant at his financial services job and was admitted to the intensive care unit.
Dr. Michael Warner, director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, said his patient – who suffered brain dysfunction after exposure to COVID-19 from an improperly-masked co-worker at his office - should serve as a cautionary tale about the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. He did not identify his patient’s place of employment.
“Whether you’re on the trading floor right now in a non-essential job … or you’re vying for managing director and you think your boss needs to see you in the office; this is not the time for that because you can get this (virus) at work,” Warner said in an interview.
In a video posted to Twitter on Monday, Warner said his patient was ordered to “show face-time at the office.”
In an email to BNN Bloomberg, Ryan Watkins, partner at Whitten & Lublin Employment Lawyers, said “non-essential workers should not be in the workplace. Period.”
“We know that a large number of COVID-19 transmissions have come from the workplace,” he said. “If the goal is to stop the spread of the virus, non-essential workers need to stay home. If employers are not going to do it, the government needs to step in and mandate it.”
Watkins added that remote workers have the right to refuse to return to unsafe working conditions under occupational health and safety legislation, but cautioned that “a fear of contracting COVID-19 is not enough to justify a work refusal nor is the risk associated with travelling to work.”
However, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said in an email that COVID-19 should be enough to refuse non-essential work.
“Every employer has obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, including infectious diseases,” said ministry spokesperson Harry Godfrey, who added that employees who find themselves in that situation should report their concerns to government officials for investigation.
“We know the most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission is to maintain physical distancing. While many jobs must be done in-person, our ministry has been clear employers should encourage their workers to stay home, whenever possible.”