COVID-19 Update: Big Change - Alberta Introduces an Exception to Mandatory Isolation for Critical Workers who Test Positive or are Symptomatic
The Alberta Government has issued an Order (the “Order”), which provides further guidance on the Province’s mandatory isolation requirements. Among other things, the Order creates an exception to mandatory isolation requirements for critical workers.
The Critical Worker Exception
Currently, a person in Alberta is required to isolate if they have: (a) tested positive for COVID-19, or (b) are sick with a core symptom of COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, or runny nose.
A. The Exception
The Order creates an exception to the above isolation requirements where the owner or operator of a business, sector, or service determines that a certain person or class of persons: (a) is a critical worker, and (b) their absence would cause a substantive disruption of services that would be harmful to the public (the “Exception”).
A critical worker in this context is defined as a person identified by the owner or operator of a business or entity who is essential to continued safe operations and who provides, or is responsible for, services that are essential to the safe operation of the business or entity (a “Critical Worker”).
The Exception is only available where:
i. the services provided by the business or entity are critical for the ongoing operation of services that impact the public interest;
ii. any substantive service disruption will be detrimental to the public interest;
iii. the person otherwise required to be in isolation is asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic; and
iv. all other means of staffing the Critical Worker’s position have been exhausted.
The term “public interest” is not defined in the Order.
B. Selecting a Critical Worker
When designating a Critical Worker, an owner or operator is asked to select the worker or workers that pose the least risk of transmission. To guide owners and operators in assessing this risk, the Order indicates that priority should be based upon the following hierarchy:
i. a symptomatic person who tests negative for COVID-19 but exhibits mild COVID-19 symptoms;
ii. an asymptomatic person who has taken one rapid test with a positive result;
iii. an asymptomatic person who is a confirmed case of COVID-19; and finally
iv. a symptomatic person who is a confirmed case of COVID-19 but exhibits mild COVID-19 symptoms.
Within each of these categories, further preference should be given to persons that have received their COVID-19 booster, followed by persons that are fully vaccinated, then persons who are partially vaccinated, and finally persons who are unvaccinated against COVID-19.
C. Attending the Workplace
Critical Workers are only permitted to attend the workplace for the purposes of completing their job duties that require them to be on-site, in-person, and to ensure the ongoing functioning of the service. Critical Workers must travel directly to the work location and immediately return to their place of residence while their isolation period remains in effect.
The Critical Worker must wear a medical mask to enter and exit the workplace. Further, where there is a possibility that a Critical Worker will be in the same room as another person, even temporarily, the Critical Worker must wear a medical mask at all times.
A Critical Worker should be alone in their work space for the duration of their shift. Work spaces for Critical Worker should include a properly functioning HVAC system and, whenever possible:
i. a single office with doors that can close;
ii. be located on a separate floor from the general areas and other work spaces in the location;
iii. have their own washroom and kitchen facilities which can only be accessed by the Critical Worker;
iv. if work spaces are shared by Critical Workers on different shifts, the Critical Worker from the first shift must leave the work space before the Critical Worker from the second shift arrives; and
v. in between shifts, rooms are thoroughly sanitized with, at minimum, 70% alcohol.
We at McCarthy Tétrault are continuing to monitor the changes brought by the Order and the Exception. Watch our COVID-19 Recovery Hub and our McCarthy Tétrault Employer Advisor Blog for further updates. In the interim, if you are an employer and have any questions about these changes or any other COVID-19 workplace matter, please contact any member of our Labour & Employment Team.