As we learn more about the Novel Coronavirus (or “COVID-19”), condominiums should prepare for issues that will inevitably arise as the virus spreads. As government ministries and other organizations prepare emergency plans, condominiums should begin doing the same.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an illness caused by a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS and MERS.
COVID-19 is spread most commonly from an infected person through close personal contact (such as touching or shaking hands), respiratory droplets when you cough or sneeze, and from touching something with the virus on it and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.
What precautions should condos be taking?
While the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) considers the current public health risk associated with COVID-19 to be low, it is important for condominium corporations to take precautions. Since the virus spreads easily from person to person, transmission can be exacerbated when people are living in close proximity, such as within a condo and sharing common areas and facilities.
Condos should take some basic precautions to manage spread of the virus within the building:
- Communicate: Remind staff and residents that PHAC has determined that the overall public health risk posed by COVID-19 remains low. Communicate the details of contingency plans, or at minimum, advise that consultations are underway regarding such plans.
- Be Diligent: Ask management, employees, residents and visitors who have travelled to high risk zones, have interacted with individuals from those areas, or are otherwise feeling sick to avoid use of common areas for 14 days and to self-quarantine if required. Consider requesting that such individuals disclose details of their potential exposure to management so that further precautions can be taken.
- Limit Gatherings: Limit unnecessary in-person gatherings in common areas (e.g. social events, committee meetings, etc.) and instead conduct any condo business over web conferencing and electronic voting for owners meetings, if permitted.
- Manage Common Areas: Install hand sanitizers near elevators, and extend the hours of janitorial staff to clean common elements, elevators, and fitness rooms. Keep in mind that disinfectants may be in short supply, in which case management should close common areas that cannot be properly cleaned on a regular basis.
- Be United: Remind staff and residents that COVID-19 is a global issue, and that everyone is responsible for doing their part to stop it from spreading any further.
How should condos deal with employees?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) imposes strict obligations on employers to protect the health and safety of workers. In light of COVID-19, condos may face many new workplace health and safety issues, such as managing work refusals from employees or dealing with employees who have recently travelled to high risk zones.
Given that no quarantine orders or directives have been issued by Canadian health authorities, employers cannot force employees to remain at home with pay. That said, condos may consider sending some employees (such as those who have recently travelled to high-risk zones) home with pay for a “staycation”, i.e. using their right to schedule employee vacations.
Workplace health and safety issues can be complex and should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis in consultation with your lawyer.