Business & Policy
Guidance regarding employees, seasonal workers and COVID-19
By Top Crop Manager
Now that temporary foreign workers (TFWs) and participants in the seasonal agricultural worker program (SAWP) have been declared exempt from the Canadian border closure, many in agriculture and the food supply chain can breathe a sigh of relief. The potential disruptions and reductions in crop production that the absence of TWFs and SAWP participants would have created are one less thing to worry about in the midst of this volatile time.
However, this does not mean that it’s business as usual regarding seasonal workers. They are subject to the same 14-day quarantine period as any Canadian resident re-entering the country after travelling abroad. This creates some unique challenges, as seasonal worker lodgings aren’t typically designed to allow for two metres (six feet) distancing. As well, where to house workers during the two week isolation period presents an issue.
The Government of Canada’s Guidance for Employers of Temporary Foreign Workers Regarding COVID-19 outlines the responsibilities of TFW employers regarding isolation and housing rules, among other measures meant to protect TWFs, employers and other Canadian residents from COVID-19.
Included in the Government of Canada’s guidelines are the following rules:
- Employers must pay seasonal workers during the quarantine period at the rate of pay agreed upon for SAWP, or for a minimum of 30 hours per week at the rate of pay specified on the Labour Market Impact Assessment for TFWs.
- Employers cannot authorize seasonal workers to work during the self-isolation period, even if the worker asks to work, unless the worker is performing an essential service.
- The employer must maintain regular contact with the seasonal workers to monitor their health, as well as any employee who becomes sick following the self-isolation period.
- Proper hand-washing facilities (soap and water, or alcohol sanitizer if hands aren’t visibly soiled) must be provided, and facilities must be regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Last Thursday, as part of a webinar on managing workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, run by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC), the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and National Cattle Feeders’ Association, Jennifer Wright of CAHRC had some additional recommendations:
- Keep your employees informed: ensure that proper hand-washing protocol, fact sheets, and information on limiting the spread of COVID-19 are posted in public spaces and easily accessible.
- Ensure employees know what to do: remind employees of their responsibility to notify you if they are feeling unwell or any risk of exposure to COVID-19 they may have had.
- Remind employees of sick leave HR policies; if you do not have a formal policy, there are templates available through Agri HR Toolkit (which can currently be accessed for free with the discount code COVID-19).
- Ensure workers know what to do: tell workers with symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19 to self-isolate.
- Do not provide information (name, date of birth, other identifying information) on any workers diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. If a worker is diagnosed with the disease, inform other employees with whom they have come in contact that they are at risk, but for legal reasons you cannot release an employee’s medical information.
- Employees can refuse to come to work if they have to take care of others, or if they do not feel the work environment is safe from exposure to COVID-19.
- Physical distancing on the job:
- Do not allow employees to congregate (coffee breaks, group lunches, etc.);
- Maintain physical distancing as much as possible (reduce number of workers in close spaces, adjust schedule to keep employees further apart);
- Create work teams to reduce contact (have barn teams that do not interact or cross paths with other teams);
- Have workers change clothes when entering or leaving the work environment (work clothes and home clothes).
- Identify mandatory tasks to prepare for working with reduced staff.
- Limit contact with suppliers and on-farm deliveries.
CAHRC has created a list of resources and links to keep you abreast of the most up-to-date information you need, without having to weed through multiple websites.