Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

COVID-19 Updates Features Labour Safety
FAQ: Navigating COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms

What to do if a seasonal agricultural worker tests positive?


June 29, 2020
By Stephanie Gordon


Topics
Photo courtesy of CAHRC.

As Ontario farms navigate COVID-19 outbreaks or try and prevent them, government, industry and employers are stepping in to do their part.

On June 24, the Ontario provincial government released a plan to reduce transmission of COVID-19 on farms and in the community for the Windsor-Essex area. Premier Doug Ford announced a three-point plan that will see: more COVID-19 testing, including on-site testing; access to employment benefits and supports for seasonal workers; and a new public health guidance for positive asymptomatic workers.

The provincial government states that early identification of workers who are not showing symptoms, but who may be infected with COVID-19, will help reduce the potential spread of the virus in the workplace and the community. However, there are some concerns among employees about testing positive and what that means.

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Premier Ford assured that temporary foreign workers are entitled to the same benefits and protections as any other worker in Ontario. That includes workers’ compensation benefits, which are administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). It also includes protections afforded by the Employment Standards Act.

Under Ontario’s new infectious disease emergency leave provisions, a worker’s job is protected while they take unpaid leave due to COVID-19.

Under Ontario’s new infectious disease emergency leave provisions, a worker’s job is protected while they take unpaid leave due to COVID-19. Federal income supports, such as the Employment Insurance (EI) program or Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), can be applied to if a worker needs income support during their leave.

Guidance for positive tests for workers without symptoms

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams also issued a new public health guidance allowing positive asymptomatic workers to continue working as long as they follow the public health measures in their workplace to minimize the risk of transmission to others.

The guidance, Targeted COVID-19 workplace testing campaigns on farms, lays out that if a worker tests positive but doesn’t have symptoms, the local public health unit will provide further directions. “The worker who has the positive test result must self-isolate or work-isolate, if determined appropriate by the local public health unit,” the guidance reads.

“The worker who has the positive test result must self-isolate or work-isolate, if determined appropriate by the local public health unit,” the guidance reads.

The guidance also states that a positive worker without symptoms should be re-tested as soon as possible, and if the test is negative the person can return to work. If the test continues to be positive, the person must continue to self-isolate or work-isolate until 14 days from the date of their first test.

If more than one person tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will investigate to determine how likely it was that the infection was transmitted in the workplace. If the public health unit declares an outbreak in the workplace, the steps for investigating and managing a workplace outbreak would be followed.

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) added that “Even if public health direction allows for asymptomatic COVID-19 positive employees to work, those individuals always have the choice to self-isolate if they are not comfortable working.” OFVGA also called for the use of stricter approaches in high priority regions, specifically asking that employees work on one farm operation instead of moving across operations to further limit the spread.

However, it is important to clarify between asymptomatic and presymptomatic. Asymptomatic refers to person who will never have symptoms, whereas presymptomatic refers to a person who hasn’t started showing symptoms yet. It is hard to distinguish between the two, except for when a presymptomatic person eventually starts showing symptoms.

Asymptomatic refers to person who will never have symptoms, whereas presymptomatic refers to a person who hasn’t started showing symptoms yet.

With this in mind, the new public health guidance provides two options: self-isolate or work-isolate, that reinforce strict isolation measures for any worker who tests positive to avoid risk. In both isolation protocols, the positive worker must avoid contact with others, keep their distance, wash their hands, and wear a procedure/surgical mask anytime they are outside the home.

Industry responds to outbreaks

For farm employers confused with where to turn to for information, Cathy Lennon, general manager of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says that the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) website is a good resource.

“I think they’re the most up to date, monitoring, updating, and publishing resources. I would say pick up the phone and call [WSPS],” Lennon says.

For the select number of farms that have been navigating COVID-19 outbreaks, there is added criticism around the temporary foreign worker program and treatment of workers. Lennon acknowledged the criticism and says the agriculture industry has to set high standards for itself and then hold itself to them.

“There are stories out there about farms that aren’t treating their workers properly and I can’t say that’s not true. I mean, it happens. And we don’t support it, and we want to see that stop too,” Lennon adds.

“There are stories out there about farms that aren’t treating their workers properly and I can’t say that’s not true. I mean, it happens. And we don’t support it, and we want to see that stop too,” Lennon adds.

“The fact that we have lost three of our essential farm workers in recent weeks to this horrible disease is heartbreaking and our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of those three men,” Lennon says.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) also released a statement, “We at CFA are extremely sad to learn of the deaths of Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, Rogelio Muñoz Santos, Lopez Chaparro caused by COVID-19.

“This situation is heart breaking. No one coming to work in Canada should ever have to fear for their safety or their lives. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of these three men. These men came here for opportunity and to improve their families’ lives at home. Their personal outcome is devastating.”

FAQ: What happens if a worker tests positive for COVID-19?

Fruit and Vegetable magazine reached out to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) through their general line to ask what happens if a worker tests positive for COVID-19. The answers have also been supplemented by a factsheet on COVID-19 and the Workplace written by the Mathews Dinsdale law office.

Q: If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, what happens next?

An employer has a legal obligation to report the contraction of COVID-19 to WSIB within three business days after learning about it (Fill out a Form 7.) If an employer is not sure whether the illness is work-related, it should still be reported. WSIB makes the decision whether an illness is work-related or not. An employer must also give notice in writing within four days to: a director of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the workplace’s joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, and union (if applicable).

An employer should also grant leave to the employee and honour any sick leave obligations in the contract, including meeting the quarantine requirements under the Quarantine Act. Currently health guidance also states 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.

A worker who tests positive should get medical help and tell their employer about their illness. A worker can report their own COVID-19 diagnosis by filling out a Form 6. Workers have six months from the date of diagnosis to claim benefits by reporting the illness to the WSIB. Read the What to do if an injury or illness happens at work brochure in English, French, Spanish, Punjabi, Tamil, or more.

Q: Are temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers eligible for WSIB benefits?

Yes.

Q: Can a worker be fired for contracting COVID-19?

No. Under Ontario’s new infectious disease emergency leave provisions, a worker’s job is protected while they take unpaid leave due to COVID-19. The legislation also makes it clear that employees are not required to show medical notes.

Q: Can a worker be fired for filing a claim?

No. An employer cannot terminate an employee who has a claim with WSIB.

Q: What WSIB benefits are available?

If a worker contracts COVID-19 and has to take time off, WSIB would cover their loss of earnings. Workplace insurance would pay 85 per cent of their take-home pay (net average earnings). There are also health benefits available, such as covering the cost of claim-related medications.

Q: How to file a WSIB claim for benefits?

A worker, an employer or a liaison officer can file a WSIB claim by calling, visiting the website, or faxing a form in.

  • Call in and file a claim over the phone at 1-800-387-0750.
  • Fill out a form online. There is a worker form and an employer form depending on who is filling it out.
  • Print out a form and fax it in at 416-344-4684 or 1-888-313-7373.

If an employer fills out a form, they must provide a copy of the illness report to the employee. You can find information for liaison officers for Barbados, Eastern Caribbean, Jamaica, and Mexico through F.A.R.M.S.

Q: Does a worker have to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work?

It is up to the discretion of the adjudicator (person processing the claim) whether or not COVID-19 was a work-related illness. However, the WSIB representative said that it’s generally accepted that being an essential worker does increase the chances of contracting COVID-19 and that is factored into the decision for the WSIB claim.

Q: Are WSIB supports available in different languages?

Yes. WSIB has access to third-party language services. If you call and want to speak to someone in a different language, say what language you would prefer and WSIB will connect with a service that allows for live translation over the phone.

Q: How would a worker receive the WSIB benefit?

If the employer continues to pay the employee for the time they are not working, WSIB would reimburse the employer.

If the employer is not paying, WSIB would pay the worker directly.

Q: How long can a worker receive the benefit for?

A worker is covered until they’ve recovered from COVID-19 and have been cleared by a healthcare professional.

Q: Can a worker apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)?

In certain cases, temporary foreign workers may also be eligible to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) if they fit all the eligibility criteria. To access the federal benefit, workers must have earned $5,000 in the last 12 months or in the previous year.

If a worker is not eligible for CERB, they may be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) instead as long as they fit the criteria for EI.

“I know that most migrant workers they are racialized and they are marginalized from their position. We are cognizant of that, that it isn’t easy and with a language barrier it is even harder. We do have certain levels of protection in place to assist them and hopefully that is encouraging to anyone who is injured and seeking help and guidance. We’re always here and happy to help,” the WSIB customer representative told Fruit and Vegetable over the phone.

For more information, visit the Government of Canada’s webpages:

Preguntas frecuentes: ¿Qué sucede si la prueba detecta el COVID-19 en un trabajador?

La revista Fruit and Vegetable se comunicó con la Junta de Seguros y Seguridad Laboral (WSIB por sus siglas en Inglés) a través de su línea de información general para preguntar qué sucede si la prueba de COVID-19 detecta el virus en un trabajador. Las respuestas también se han complementado con una hoja informativa sobre COVID-19 y el lugar de trabajo escrita por la oficina legal de Mathews Dinsdale.

Pregunta: Si la prueba detecta el COVID-19 en un trabajador, ¿qué sucede después?

Un empleador tiene la obligación legal de informar al WSIB cuando un empleado contrae COVID-19 en un plazo de tres días hábiles desde que se les notifica el diagnóstico (Complete el formulario 7). Si un empleador no está seguro que la contracción está relacionada con el trabajo, aún debe informarla. WSIB toma la decisión de si una enfermedad es de carácter laboral o no. Un empleador tiene la obligación de informar por escrito dentro de cuatro días también a: un director del Ministerio de Trabajo, Capacitación y Desarrollo de Habilidades,  el comité conjunto de salud y seguridad del lugar de trabajo o un representante de salud y seguridad, y el sindicato (si corresponde).

Un empleador también debe otorgar que el trabajador se ausente, al igual que cumplir con las obligaciones relacionadas a la ausencia por enfermedad establecidas en el contrato, incluido el cumplimiento de los requisitos de cuarentena en virtud de la Ley de Cuarentena. Actualmente, la guía de salud también establece que todos los empleados que durante el trabajo tuvieron contacto con un empleado infectado también deberán ser apartados del sitio de trabajo durante al menos un período de 14 días para garantizar que la infección no se propague en el sitio de trabajo.

Un trabajador cuya prueba resulta positiva de COVID-19 debe obtener asistencia médica y avisar a su empleador de su enfermedad. Un trabajador puede informar su diagnóstico de COVID-19 por medio del Formulario 6. El trabajador tiene seis meses a partir de la fecha del diagnóstico para reclamar los beneficios y puede hacer esto notificando al WSIB de su enfermedad. Consulte el folleto Qué hacer en caso de una lesión o enfermedad laboral en Inglés, Francés, Español, Punjabi, Tamil, o en otro idioma.

Pregunta: ¿Los trabajadores extranjeros temporales en Canadá tienen derecho a los beneficios WSIB?

Sí.

Pregunta: ¿Se puede despedir a un trabajador por contratar COVID-19?

No. Bajo las nuevas provisiones de permiso de emergencia por enfermedades infecciosas de Ontario, el empleo de un trabajador está protegido mientras toman ausencia no remunerada debido a COVID-19.

Pregunta: ¿Se puede despedir a un trabajador por presentar una solicitud de beneficios WSIB?

No. Un empleador no puede despedir un trabajador que ha solicitado los beneficios WSIB.

Pregunta: ¿Que beneficios WSIB estan disponibles? 

Si un trabajador contrae COVID-19 y no puede ir a trabajar, el WSIB cubriría su pérdida de ganancias. El seguro laboral pagaría 85 por ciento del promedio de sus ganancias netas.

También hay beneficios para la salud, como la cobertura del costo de los medicamentos relacionados con la solicitud de reivindicación salarial por medio de WSIB.

Pregunta: ¿Cómo iniciar una solicitud de beneficios de WSIB? 

Un trabajador, un empleador, o un oficial de enlace puede presentar una solicitud de beneficios de WSIB por medio del teléfono, la página de web, o por fax.

  • Llame y presente una solicitud por teléfono al 1-800-387-0750
  • Complete un formulario en línea. Hay formularios distintos para trabajadores y empleadores dependiendo de quién lo esté completando.
  • Imprime un formulario y envíelo por fax al 416-344-4684 o 1-888-313-7373.

Si un empleador completa un formulario, debe proporcionar una copia del mismo a su empleado. Puede encontrar más información para oficiales de enlace de Barbados, el Caribe Oriental, Jamaica y México a través de F.A.R.M.S.

Pregunta: ¿Tiene que demostrar un trabajador que contrajo COVID-19 en el trabajo? 

Depende del criterio del adjudicador (persona que procesa la solicitud) si COVID-19 fue o no una enfermedad de carácter laboral. Sin embargo, durante la entrevista, el representante de WSIB dijo que, en general, se acepta que por ser un trabajador esencial las posibilidades de contratar COVID-19 son mayores y eso se toma en cuenta en la decisión de la solicitud de WSIB.

Pregunta: ¿Los apoyos de WSIB están disponibles en diferentes idiomas?  

Sí. WSIB otorga acceso a servicios de idiomas de terceros. Si llama y desea hablar con alguien en otro idioma, diga qué idioma preferiría y WSIB se conectará con un servicio que permite traduccion en vivo por teléfono.

Pregunta: ¿Cómo recibiría un trabajador el beneficio WSIB? 

Si el empleador sigue remunerando al trabajador mientras este incapacitado,  WSIB reembolsaría el empleador.

Si el empleador no sigue pagando, WSIB pagaría directamente al trabajador incapacitado.

Pregunta: ¿Por cuánto tiempo un trabajador puede recibir el beneficio? 

Un trabajador recibirá cobertura hasta que se haya recuperado del COVID-19 y sea dado de alta por un profesional de salud.

Pregunta: ¿Puede solicitar un trabajador el Beneficio de Respuesta de Emergencia de Canadá (CERB por sus siglas en Inglés)?

En ciertos casos, trabajadores extranjeros temporales pueden ser elegibles para solicitar el Beneficio de Respuesta de Emergencia de Canadá (CERB por sus siglas en Inglés) si cumplen con todos los criterios de elegibilidad. Para acceder el beneficio federal, los trabajadores deben haber ganado $5,000 en los últimos 12 meses o en el año anterior.

Si un trabajador no tiene derecho a CERB, puede ser que tienen derecho al Seguro de Empleo (EI por sus siglas en Inglés), siempre y cuando cumpla con los criterios de EI.

“Sé que la mayoría de los trabajadores extranjeros temporales están racializados y marginados de su puesto. Estamos consciente de eso, que no es fácil y con una barrera del idioma es aún más difícil. Tenemos ciertos niveles de protección para ayudarlos y esperemos que sea alentador para cualquiera que esté lesionado y busque ayuda y orientación. Siempre estaremos dispuestos y felices de ayudar,” dijo el representante del cliente de WSIB a Fruit and Vegetable por teléfono.

For more information, visit the Government of Canada’s webpages: