Two Halifax attorneys say it's important to follow your company's COVID-19 guidelines if you want to tell your boss that you are in a potential exposure location.
This month, around 40 public locations were designated by Public Health, most of them in the greater Halifax area. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Wellness says that each exposure notice contains specific information for people who were in that location.
On Friday, the province announced new measures in the greater Halifax area to reduce its prevalence in the community, such as limiting social gatherings to five people.
While some recommendations merely ask people to monitor themselves for symptoms, others, such as the recent case at The Pint Public House or Durty Nelly, require that everyone present at the time of exposure have a COVID-19 test plans.
However, whether lawyers inform your workplace that you are in one of these locations depends on a number of factors and the risk involved.
"For a given employee, it's a matter of judgment and circumstance," said Jillian Houlihan, partner at Pink Larkin in Halifax.
"In the absence of a public health policy or an express request from your employer, there is no special obligation to notify your employer that you have been in a place where any of these notices have been posted."
Houlihan said if public health asks individuals to monitor symptoms, the risk that a person will contract COVID-19 from that location is "extremely small".
If so, she said she would be careful about disclosing this information unless absolutely necessary. This is because an employer could send a person home for two weeks without pay, even if they were at low risk of contracting the virus from the exposure site and had no symptoms.
"It challenges a lot of employees," she said. "Many people do not have access to paid vacation in a situation where they may not be welcome at work and may not have the opportunity to work from home."
Michael Murphy is a partner at McInnes Cooper in Halifax. (Submitted by Michael Murphy)
Michael Murphy, attorney at McInnes Cooper in the Labor and Employment Group, said he understood there might be a fear of missing out on work, but people should make sure they understand their employer's COVID-19 policies before they leave Keep information to yourself.
Some workers are required to undergo a screening questionnaire asking if they have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 or if they may have been exposed to the virus. Murphy did not respond that a person could truthfully be at risk for "any form of disciplinary action".
This situation could also fall under the Nova Scotia Occupational Safety and Health Act, which Murphy said must take "reasonable precautions" to ensure health and safety in the workplace.
"If they know they've been in an exposure location … and they don't bring it to the employer's attention and it becomes something unfortunate, then there could be a potential liability for them," said he
Murphy said even then, it could be difficult for employers to link a workplace outbreak to a particular worker. However, if the company has a policy on COVID-19, it may be able to say that an employee violated this by not speaking.
Houlihan said one case where employers are asking for more details about what workers do outside of work is the long-term care sector or jobs that involve vulnerable populations.
But Houlihan said when employers ask people if they've been at an exposure site, it's not clear what, if anything, to do with that information. Without symptoms or a directive from public health, an employee cannot simply be tested for COVID-19, she said.
"If you have an employee who may be exposed in any of these locations, would you like to remove them from work for the next 14 days? Probably not," she said.
"I think the advice is a helpful reminder to people that neither of us knows who any of us have been exposed to when we leave work."
"Tight control" over social activities
Houlihan said there are also potential employees who may feel uncomfortable learning that someone has been tested for COVID-19
"There's also an element of scrutinizing our activities right now," she said. "I think if you were exposed for going to a bar, people in the workplace will wonder if you should have done that."
But Murphy said he hoped people weren't judged simply because they were tested for the virus.
"Getting tested is something people should be doing, it's part of the fight against COVID," he said.
The health department says anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, whether or not they've been exposed to potential exposure, should complete the online self-assessment or contact 811 and stay home if they're uncomfortable.