Information and Tips on COVID-19

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Keeping up to date with COVID-19 details and recommended protocols is challenging for everyone at this time. CAHRC is here to help. We have created a dedicated webpage with the latest information, recommendations, employee management tips, tools (posters, policies) and links to authorities. We will also continue to share relevant news articles through our Newsfeed. These details will help you respond to the pandemic and limit the impact and spread of COVID-19 within your business.


Latest COVID-19 information & Resources

Where can I find links to reputable public health authorities?

How Do We Manage On the Farm?

  • We are aware that there have been some follow-up questions about your obligations as employers to SAWP and other TFWP workers during the 14 day self-isolation period under the new COVID-19 conditions. To clarify your obligations please carefully read the following: 

    • The 14-day isolation period for workers upon arrival is absolutely essential. At the time of this update, we have been advised by the federal government that workers shall not work during this isolation period. We don’t expect this to change, but if it does, we will advise employers of any changes.
    • The SAWP Employment Contract stipulates that the worker is to receive payment for a minimum AVERAGE of 40 hours per week OVER THE TERM OF EMPLOYMENT.  This means that when the worker’s term of employment is complete, the employer must make sure they have been paid an average of 40 hours per week from the start date of employment to the end date. This calculation needs to include the 14 day isolation period.

    This is what is meant by “going by the SAWP contract”.

    • Other TFW Program obligations:  Workers employed under the Ag Stream Low Skill and Low Wage programs must be paid a minimum of 30 hours per week during the 14 day self-isolation period.
  • Ensure your workers have access to information about proper protocol (e.g. hand washing, see list in Employee section below) to limit transmission. Fact sheets to post in the work environment can be found here:
  • Ensure your workers are aware of their responsibility to properly notify you if they are feeling unwell or of any risk of exposure to COVID-19 they may have encountered.
  • Communicate clearly with your workers about your expectations regarding sick leave.
  • Remind them of your HR policies during this pandemic, specifically around sick leave. If you do not have formal policies in place, templates are available in the AgriHR Toolkit.
    • Depending on the existing policy, it may be required to extend sick leave beyond the current policy to ensure workers with symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 are not stressed by a financial burden when needing to self-isolate. Such an environment where employees have this comfort will encourage self-reporting and reduce potential exposure to other employees.
  • ​Ensure that workers with symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 are supported to self-isolate.
  • Do not provide information regarding the name, date of birth, or other identifiers of any workers diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. Your workers are entitled to privacy under Canadian privacy legislation. There are special circumstances when you may have to have to share this information(e.g. life threatening reasons). Consult with legal counsel before sharing any personal medical information of your workers.
  • Do provide information to your workers if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.
If known provide:

Information for Your Employees

  • Follow the recommended methods of reducing transmission of the virus including:
  • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • when coughing or sneezing:
  • cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
  • dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket
  • wash your hands afterwards
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • clean the following high-touch surfaces frequently with regular household cleaners or diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water):
    • toilets, phones, electronics, door handles, tables, farm/business equipment and tools.

Managing the Risk to the Work Environment

  • Limit or restrict visitors to the farm or business operation.
  • Implement a hand-washing regime for all employees.
  • Clean frequently used surfaces with hospital grade disinfectant.
  • Ensure employees are informed of the risks, symptoms, steps to self-isolate.
  • Consider restricting travel (business or leisure) and ask employees to self-isolate upon returning home from international travel.
  • Businesses that are receiving foreign workers should monitor advisories from the government departments responsible for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
  • Continue to follow recommendations provided around maintaining biosecurity and food safety standards.
  • Businesses that provide housing for their workers will need to ensure their risk management plan considers large numbers of employees being quarantined or requiring health care.
  • Ensure risk management and operational plans include pandemic plans for HR management. Having a risk management plan in place for dealing with events that may cause a crisis to the staff available to work will ensure that when/if that happens there is a structured, controlled response to it.
    • These type of plans should include identifying decision makers, roles and responsibilities, access to medical care, plans for both quarantine or transportation to medical facilities. They should also include communications planning such as who is the point of contact, medical contacts, internal and external communication plans, contact information for all staff, suppliers, community services.
    • The risk management plan should also identify what to do if staff are not available to conduct time sensitive work (e.g. milking, strawberry picking) when not enough employees are available to do the work because of sickness. This may include having agreements with surrounding farmers for back up support.

Has there Been Animal-to-Human Infection in Canada?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that this virus is circulating in animals in Canada. It is possible that some types of animals may be able to get infected with COVID-19, but it is not yet clear whether they would show symptoms.
There are still many unknowns about COVID-19 and this is an area that remains to be studied and understood.
Until we know more, if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have contact with animals:
  • avoid close contact with them
  • avoid coughing and sneezing on the animals
  • have another member of your staff care for the animals
  • if this is not possible, always wash your hands before touching or feeding them
  • limit the animal's contact with other people and animals do not snuggle or kiss them, or let them lick you, sit on your lap, or sleep in your bed.
[1] CAHRC is committed to clear and regular communications to benefit you and your employees. These recommendations will be updated as more information becomes available. [1]
If you have questions about managing your workers and business during this difficult time, please contact CAHRC. We will endeavour to answer your questions as quickly as possible and will include a Frequently Asked Questions section on this page to ensure everyone has access to the latest information.

Access The Latest Government Updates




Frequently Asked Questions

What new EI supports are in place to help workers if they are sick with COVID-19 or unable to work due to exposure or self-isolation?

The federal and provincial/territorial governments are updating policies and programs as this issue evolves. It is important for employers to ensure employees are aware of these updates as they become available.
The federal government has announced the following changes to support Canadian employers and employees:

  • The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
  • Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period.

Priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for clients under quarantine.

Provincial and territorial governments are also starting to look at ways to protect workers, particularly those vulnerable or that are unable to work from home. For example, the Ontario government announced today (March 16) that the following legislation will be proposed:

  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19
  • The employee is in isolation or quarantine.
  • The employee is acting in accordance with public health information or direction.
  • The employer directs the employee not to work.
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure.

This proposed legislation would also make it clear that an employee will not be required to provide a medical note if the take the leave. The measures would be retroactive to January 25, 2020, the date of the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario.
Many workers will be eligible for Employment Insurance sickness benefits. The Government of Ontario is also reviewing current access and eligibility to emergency assistance which is available through the Ontario Works (OW) program to support individuals who are impacted by the coronavirus and who are not able to meet their basic living expenses.

How do Producers appropriately balance the needs of vulnerable workers (immune compromised workers) with the needs of production and the business?

Producers need to ensure they clarify HR policies and that workers are aware of their options. It is essential that workers are supported to make the right decision about their health based on their own circumstances – no one wants a person’s death on their conscience and we don’t want a situation where someone doesn’t feel able to self report exposure or illness because they need the paycheck and aren’t aware of the government support that is available through EI.
“Both public and private sector organizations must recognize their human rights obligations and consider the potential disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the vulnerable groups they employ or service,” says the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This includes ensuring any restrictions are consistent with the most recent advice from medical and public health officials and are justified for health and safety reasons. It is also important for producers to ensure that there is still an obligation to protect the human rights of their employees. “Negative treatment of employees who have, or are perceived to have, COVID-19, for reasons unrelated to public health and safety, is discriminatory and prohibited under the Human Rights Code. Employers have the duty to accommodate employees in relation to COVID-19, unless it would amount to undue hardship based on cost, or health and safety.”  


Can I, as an employer, take an employee’s temperature to determine whether they might be infected? What about other medical testing?

Human rights legislation places restrictions on an employer’s ability to require medical examinations or health testing. Generally, unless the examination or testing is reasonably required to assess the employee’s ability to work (e.g. a bona fide occupational requirement), compulsory testing of all employees through temperature checks would not be appropriate.

However, as the prevalence of COVID-19 continues to escalate, it may become reasonable for employers to take more aggressive health testing measures in the workplace, including temperature checks. We will continue to review recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada and provincial health authorities.

An employee has tested positive for COVID-19. What should I, as the employer, do?

The employee should not be permitted to return to work until they are free of the COVID-19 virus. The current advice from health authorities is that all employees who worked closely with the infected employee should also be removed from the workplace for at least a 14-day period to ensure the infection does not spread in the workplace.

What constitutes “closely” will depend on the workplace and the nature of interactions between employees. Employers should err on the side of caution.

Employers should also take reasonable measures to protect the identity of any employee who contracts COVID-19.

One of our employees has an unconfirmed case of COVID-19. What should I do as the employer?

As with a confirmed case, the employee should be removed from the workplace.

The Public Health Agency of Canada encourages any person who has even mild symptoms to stay home and call the public health authority in the province or territory they are in to inform them. They will provide advice on what the employee should do.

Other employees who may have been exposed should be informed and removed from the workplace for at least a 14 day period or until the diagnosis of COVID-19 is ruled out by health authorities.

One of our employees told us that they came into contact with someone who has COVID-19. What should I, as the employer, do?

The employee should be removed from the workplace for at least 14 days. Co-workers who may have come into close contact with the employee should also be removed from the workplace for at least a 14 day period.

If one of our employee’s has COVID-19, do I, as the employer, have to report it to the provincial or federal government?

There is no obligation to report a confirmed case of COVID-19 to federal or provincial health authorities. The medical professional who received the diagnosis has the obligation to report the positive test result to provincial health authorities. However, if an employee in the workplace is diagnosed, the you may want to voluntarily contact public health authorities to receive advice and assist in identifying contacts the infected employee had in the workplace.

If the employee becomes ill or dies from COVID-19, and it is determined that infection occurred at the workplace or in the course of employment, the you, as the employer, may be obliged, under health and safety and workers’ compensation legislation, to notify public health authorities. In all cases, you will also need to ensure you are following requirements outlined in food safety and biosecurity regulations.       

What are my obligations, as an employer, to the health and safety of my employees?

There's an obligation under occupational health and safety legislation to ensure a safe work environment. Employers have to show that they have exercised due diligence in ensuring the safety of its employees from hazards at work. And possible exposure to coronavirus can be considered a hazard.

How does that apply to COVID-19? If you have employees who are returning from/arriving to Canada from other countries the federal government requires that they self-isolate for 14 days. That’s a practical step to making sure others in the workplace don’t get exposed.

If an employee is sick and suspects they have been exposed, he/she needs to tell you, as the employer, immediately. That should be a part of any coronavirus policy or protocol. In that case, the employee should not be allowed to return to work, which might expose other employees to the same risk. He/she needs to self-quarantine and not return to work until cleared.

Do I, as the employer, have to buy personal protective equipment for employees?

Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment relative to the expected duties of the employee and the risks in the workplace. If employees run the risk of becoming infected at work because of the work they perform, you, as the employer, must provide personal protective equipment. The COVID-19 preventative measures being advised are hand sanitation and social distancing. 

If you have an employee who is vulnerable (over age 65, compromised immune system, or underlying medical condition) the obligations to this employee could be different. Precisely what steps may be reasonable to protect the vulnerable worker are likely to be determined on a case-by-case basis and involve advice from public health and/or medical officials.  You, as the employer, may not know if a vulnerable employee is in the workplace.  As part of workplace communications about COVID-19, employers should prompt workers with individual risk concerns to raise them with the employer.

How should sick days be handled?

The first question is “Does the employee require a sick day?” There's a difference between an employee asking for sick leave because he/she is afraid to come to work, and someone who is actually ill and might have been exposed. In that case, the sick leave policy would kick in and, if you have sick leave benefits, they could apply. As the employer, you should check with your health insurer on this. If there are not sick leave benefits, the federal government has said they will eliminate the waiting period or reduce it for those who need assistance. The decision to grant any additional sick leave days is up to you, as the employer.

What if an employee has COVID-19 and cannot work?

When an employee contracts COVID-19 and is unable to work, you, as the employer, must grant any applicable legislative leave to the employee, in addition to meeting any sick leave obligations outlined in employment agreements or collective agreements. You will also be required to protect the privacy of the employee, while protecting the health and safety of their co-workers and yourself. If the employee contracted COVID-19 in the workplace, there may be additional reporting obligations under workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety legislation.

If an employee contracts COVID-19, what government benefits are available?

The federal government will be providing additional support. Please refer to the government website to access the most current information on these benefits.

If an employee's family member contracts COVID-19 and that employee is required to stay home to care for them, what government benefits are available?

The federal government will be providing additional support. Please refer to the government website to access the most current information on these benefits

What if I, as an employer, needs to replace sick employees on a temporary basis to continue operating?

You can hire employees on a temporary basis. You may also ask healthy employees to work additional hours, provided you are complying with legislative provisions regarding overtime and excessive hours of work.

If you are an employer in unionized workplaces, you should be cognizant of collective agreement and provincial labour laws applying to unionized workplaces.

You should have already assessed how many employees require to operate effectively and what will happen if a large number of employees are unable to attend work. If you have not done so already, do so now.

If we layoff our employees, are they still covered under our benefit plans?

This will depend on the language of the benefit plan document. You should review the policies with your benefit plan provider and advise employees of any limitations or restrictions in coverage.

If I, as the employer, keep an employee without COVID-19 symptoms out of work because of concerns around COVID-19, is there a requirement to compensate the employee?

This will depend on the circumstances, including: if the employee has travelled, the nature of the specific workplace (e.g. ability to work within physical distancing requirements of 2 meters), alternatives available (i.e. working from home) and any potential contract or collective agreement requirements.

If you anticipate you will not require employees, they should be notified and their individual contracts adjusted.

Can I, as an employer, fire an employee if they contract COVID-19?

No. You may not terminate an employee or otherwise discriminate against an employee due to physical disability (which includes certain illnesses) under human rights legislation.

What happens if a workplace has to temporarily close because of the virus?

If you have to reduce operations or even shut down, this would result in a layoff. Refer to the updated employment insurance (EI) application process for your employees. In a unionized environment, you would simply lay off employees as per the collective agreement.

What if employees refuse to work because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace?

Your obligation, as an employer, is to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of employees under occupational health and safety legislation. Where an employee has reason to believe that there is a dangerous condition in the workplace, or that their duties present a danger to their health and safety (which is not an inherent or normal condition of their work), the employee may be able to refuse to attend work or perform certain duties.

In the event of a work refusal, you, as the employer, must respond in accordance with occupational health and safety legislation. This includes an investigation into the concerns and, if appropriate, adopting measures to eliminate or reduce the workplace danger. This investigation will, in large part, be based upon the current scientific understanding of COVID-19 and the specific facts in the individual workplace.

Can I, as an employer, require an employee to work remotely?

As you know, in many cases, the work required in primary agriculture is not able to be done by working remotely. In the current climate for those roles that may be able, a request that employees work remotely will likely be seen by government authorities as a reasonable measure to protect the health and safety of employees.

Some of my employees cannot work from home.  What should they do?

Many jobs in primary production do not allow the flexibility to work from home.  In that case, here are some general guidelines you can provide to these employees to help prevent virus transmission:

  • Instruct employees to remain 2 meters/6 feet away from each other at all times.
  • Ensure that employees have access to stations to regularly wash hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based disinfectant.
  • Post signage on how to properly wash and sanitize hands with alcohol-based disinfectant.
  • Instruct employees to take breaks separately (or at least 6 feet away from each other at all times).
  • Ensure break rooms and other public areas are regularly cleaned, and surfaces such as desks, tables, metal bars, are regularly wiped down with alcohol-based disinfectant.
  • Set expectations within the organization that workers may be slightly less productive than usual given the exceptional circumstances and the need to remain 6 feet apart.

How do we monitor employees working remotely?

You should have a written policy which governs employees who are required to work remotely and addresses such things as working hours, productivity, remote meeting protocols, technology requirements and access to information issues, etc.

How should I, as an employer, handle employee travel?

Non-essential International travel has been restricted at this time. Commercial travel between Canada-US border remains open. Non-essential domestic travel is also not advised. Should travel be required, you need to advise your employees of what the parameters are and what the precautions should be, including physical distancing, hand washing, not touching their faces, avoiding frequently touched surfaces and restrictions on travel to any areas with high cases of infection.

What should I do about visitors coming to my site?

Non-essential visitors should be limited or not allowed. Visitors should be required to sign in and answer questions about their health status before they are allowed to enter.  They should self-declare whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone diagnosed with the illness, or have recently travelled outside the country. Maintaining a log of visitors and their phone numbers is important should you need to contact them at a later date regarding the virus.