CHAUDHRI: Mandatory workplace COVID testing may soon be a reality

By March 25, 2021 No Comments

Several weeks ago I wrote about the massive COVID outbreak at a Canada Post facility that resulted in hundreds of employees either testing positive for the virus or being in self isolation and one employee death.

I advocated for mandatory rapid testing for all employers that required employees to physically attend the workplace. My position was met by resistance from several Sun readers.

“Why is the older generation being used as guinea pigs. I realize that the article is about testing, but testing leads to gene therapy aka vaccinations. That said, what is the cycle threshold for testing and why? What is the science supporting said decision?”

While you may not agree that mandatory testing should be rolled out in all workplaces, a recent arbitration decision ordered that testing continue in at least one Ontario workplace where workers tried to have it ousted.

After Caressant Nursing and Retirement Homes in Woodstock implemented a mandatory testing policy for staff, the employee union (CLAC) filed a grievance attempting to strike it down.

The grievance challenged a policy requiring all staff at the home, including frontline workers, management and food service workers, to be COVID tested by nasal swab every two weeks. Employees who refused testing would be placed on a leave of absence until they were tested.

Several employees challenged the policy, including registered practical nurse Rebecca McColgan. She gave evidence that the biweekly testing was “invasive, painful” and “it causes her nose to bleed.”

The union argued the policy was an unreasonable exercise of the home’s management rights; that the use of the nasal swab is an intrusion of privacy and a breach of their employees’ dignity. The union argued the policy was overly broad by not just testing employees who had COVID symptoms but instead tested everyone biweekly, symptomatic or not.

The employer argued that it paid all employees for an hour of work to obtain the test and that the policy was created after the government recommended employee testing.

In the decision, arbitrator Dana Randall found that public health is still learning about COVID, it’s transmission and long-term effects. Randall found preventing the spread of COVID in the home outweighed the breach of privacy to employees.

Notably, the home had no reported cases of COVID at the time the grievance was heard, suggesting mandatory testing of workers successfully kept COVID away from residents.

Randall even quoted the chief medical advisor to the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, in the decision: “If you just test people who are symptomatic, you’re going to miss a very large contingent of the spread of the infection in the community.”

The arbitrator dismissed the grievance.

Mandatory testing makes sense and it works. As most of us bide our time until vaccines are available, if we want our economy to return, employees must get back to work and routine testing is the only viable option to curb chances of workplace outbreaks that are often too unwieldy to contain by the time they are detected.

COVID has forever changed our expectations of privacy when it comes to our health. You may well have to allow your employer to dictate the terms of COVID testing in the workplace or risk saying goodbye to your job.

On to your questions from this week:

Q. I own a small business with 10 employees. We got two calls from Ministry of Labour officers in one month about complaints that we are not properly screening employees for COVID symptoms. I am pretty sure I know which employee made the calls. I don’t want to continue to work with this employee. What can I do? We have had no COVID cases in our workplace by the way.

A. It is illegal to terminate an employee for exercising their right to file a complaint with the Ministry of Labo