FAQs: COVID-19 and Health Care Workers

Publish date: Monday, March 23, 2020

HSP - Health Science Professionals

Updated March 23, 2020

B.C.’s health care system is on heightened alert to contain and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The BC Centre for Disease Control reports the situation regarding COVID-19 continues to evolve here in B.C., Canada and other jurisdictions in the world. The Ministry of Health, Office of the Provincial Health Officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control have plans to respond to this new illness and the B.C. Health System is preparing for the possibility of a pandemic.

PEA continues to participate in regular briefings by Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, the Ministry of Health, and employers. Up-to-date information from the BC Centre for Disease Control on pandemic planning can be found here.

The following are frequently asked questions and answers for health care workers in BC.

I AM A RETIRED/NON PRACTICING HEALTH CARE WORKERS. HOW DO I RE-REGISTER SO I CAN HELP?

  • Contact your professional association or regulating college. They are working with public health officials to establish an expedited re-registration process to facilitate bringing support to our health care team.
  • Once you have reinstated your membership, contact your local facility’s human resources department and advise them you are available to be hired back to work during the pandemic.

WHAT PERSONAL PROTECTIVE MEASURES SHOULD I TAKE AS A HEALTH CARE WORKER?

  • Follow the same advice that public health officials recommend for the cold and flu season:
    • wash your hands often with soap and water, and avoid touching your face
    • cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
    • avoid others who are unwell
    • stay home when you are sick. If you see a health care provider, be sure to contact them ahead of time so you can be assessed safely
  • Masks and personal protective equipment
    • Patients under investigation should be managed with contact and droplet precautions (including eye protection) - Please note that safety glasses do not offer adequate protection from microbes. Face shields or goggles offer splash resistance to protect workers from blood and body fluid sprays and splashes.
    • Nasoparyneal (NP) swabs and throat swabs can be performed using contact and droplet precautions with surgical mask and eye protection, and do not require the use of an N95 respirator.
    • Airborne precautions including N95 respirators with eye protection should be used during aerosol-generating procedures (e.g. open suctioning of respiratory tract, intubation, bronchoscopy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
    • Document: Respiratory Protection for Health Care Workers Caring for Potential or Confirmed COVID-19 Patients

WHEN DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE UNSAFE WORK?

  • All workers in British Columbia have the right to refuse unsafe work.

    • A worker has the right to refuse to carry out any work process or operate or cause to be operated any tool, appliance or equipment if the worker has reasonable cause to believe that to do so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person, including the worker. (Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 3.12).

  • You must immediately report the circumstances of the unsafe condition to your supervisor or employer, who is obligated to immediately investigate the issue, and ensure that any unsafe condition is remedied without delay.

  • During the COVID-19 Pandemic crisis, a process has been established by HEABC employers to ensure issues related to right to refuse are dealt with expeditiously.

  • If you feel you are being asked to do work that is unsafe, report this immediately to your supervisor and contact your PEA Local Rep or Labour Relations Officer.

WHAT DO I DO IF I HAVE BEEN OR BELIEVE I HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COVID-19?

  • Call 8-1-1, your primary care provider, or public health office
    • If you are instructed by a primary care provider to self-isolate, make sure you inform your employer, and you will be placed on paid general leave. This will not affect your other leave banks.
    • BC Centre for Disease Control  guidelines on self-isolation 
    • If you are a casual employee, you will be placed on a general leave of absence and compensated for any accepted shifts hat were canceled because of the self-isolation requirement by a primary care provider.
    • Employees are not required to get a sick note from a physician. 
    • Contact your PEA Local Rep or labour relations officer if you have concerns about how your time is being coded if you are self-isolated

WHAT SHOULD MY EMPLOYER DO IF A CASE OF COVID-19 IS CONFIRMED IN MY WORKPLACE?

  • Employers have an obligation to ensure workers are informed and equipped to work in settings where there’s risk of exposure to COVID-19, and should provide timely, specific and clear direction to health care workers on the infection control protocols they will follow to avoid exposure to the virus.

I AM PREGNANT. WHAT PRECAUTIONS SHOULD I TAKE?

  • You should be in touch with your primary care provider for advice. The Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Bonny Henry, has recommended that although there is no evidence of increased vulnerability to infection for those who are pregnant, out of an abundance of caution the following is recommended:
    • Pregnant employees who are concerned about exposure should discuss with their employer options to be redeployed to an area where risk of exposure is minimal. Your employer must ensure adequate personal protective measures are in place.
    • If you require an accommodation because of your pregnancy status, the regular procedure is to be followed: contact your supervisor to accommodate you, including allowing you to work from home if possible. We are working with employers to expedite the process for accommodation in these cases.

I LIVE WITH MY ELDERLY PARENTS, AND I'M CONCERNED ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF EXPOSING THEM TO COVID-19. CAN I TAKE SPECIAL LEAVE TO REDUCE MY RISK OF EXPOSURE AT WORK?

Special leave banks do not cover saying at home to reduce risk of exposure. You may access overtime banks, vacation, and unpaid leave to stay home in this situation.

I HAVE AN UNDERLYING HEALTH CONDITION AND AM AT RISK DURING THIS PANDEMIC. I DON'T THINK I SHOULD BE AT WORK.

  • Employees who are at a higher risk for serious illness due to COVID-19 are eligible for a medical accommodation.
    • Your employer should
      • Try to redeploy you to avoid direct patient care or otherwise minimize risk of exposure
      • Arrange for you to work from home where possible
        • If neither of those is possible, you may be placed on sick leave.
    • The HSPBA is working with employers to streamline processes to allow for accommodations and appropriate leaves.

MY EMPLOYER IS ASKING ME TO REPORT TO WORK EVEN THOUGH I THINK THAT I CAN WORK AT HOME.  DOESN’T IT MAKE MORE SENSE FOR ME TO WORK AT HOME?

  • In some circumstances, PEA members may be able to perform their work from home if the employer has the ability to provide them proper equipment and appropriate access to their files or records.  However, the employer has the right and may determine that you should report to the worksite in order to perform your duties.  

MY EMPLOYER SAYS THAT I AM AN ESSENTIAL WORKER AND I'M NOT SURE THAT I AM. 

  • The Public Health Officer has given health care and social services employers the right to determine whether or not staff members are essential to the delivery of services.
  • PEA members play a vital role on the providing caring, professional, and excellent service to patients and clients.   During a time of crisis in which the public requires access to these services, employers continue to deem our members essential.
  • PEA members may be redeployed under the employer’s redeployment policies during this time if they are not required in their usual unit, department, program, or location.
  • Members who are redeployed should be qualified and trained to perform duties without putting workers at risk as a result of changes to work duties. 
  • In all circumstances, when you are at work, the employer is responsible for ensuring that your workplace is safe while providing these services. 

I HAD CHILDCARE ARRANGED FOR SPRING BREAK, BUT WITH THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS, AND MY DAYCARE CLOSING, I DON’T HAVE CHILDCARE AFTER SPRING BREAK. I HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE. I HAVE TO STAY HOME.

  • Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix have repeatedly told British Columbians this issue is on their radar, as they recognize the need for health care and other front line workers to get to work to provide the services British Columbians depend on.
  • We are awaiting direction from public health officials about the strategy to be implemented so that health care workers are not forced to take vacation or unpaid leave to meet their child care needs.

TRAVEL AND SELF-ISOLATION

  • If you have recently returned from travel to an area where there has been a COVID-19 outbreak and public health officials have issued a travel advisory for self-isolation, self-isolate and advise your employer, and you will be placed on a paid general leave of absence. As of March 15, 2020, travel advisories for self isolation are in place for people returning from Hubei province in China, Iran, and Italy.
  • If you are returning from travel outside Canada, and are asymptomatic, contact your employer to determine if you must self-isolate before returning to work. Your employer will determine if you are considered essential, as per the March 15 letter to health care workers from the BC Chief Medical Officer. 
    • **Health care workers providing direct patient care returning from outside the country may be exempt from the general self isolation directive but will be required to self-monitor their health status. This exemption does not apply to travel from Hubei Province in China, Iran or Italy. Health care workers returning from these areas will be directed to self-isolate for 14 days. 
    • Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's March 13 letter providing this direction for health care workers  is here.(Please note we are seeking clarification on the range of occupations covered by this guidance)
  • See Public Health Agency advice for Returning Travellers
  • If you have travelled to an area not designated a COVID 19 affected region, are asymptomatic but believe you may have been exposed to COVID 19, contact 8-1-1 or your primary care provider and self-isolate if so directed. Contact your employer, and you will be placed on paid general leave while in self-isolation and awaiting further direction from your primary care provider.
  • You should continue to self-monitor, and if you develop any flu-like symptoms, contact your primary care provider or 8-1-1. If you are instructed to self-isolate while awaiting testing, contact your employer, and you will be place on paid leave.

LEAVE BANKS - HSPBA COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT MEMBERS

  • During this extraordinary period, members may cancel pre-approved vacation and union leave. Cancellations will be at the discretion of the employee, and do not require mutual agreement.  Any backfills that have been arranged will be redeployed.
  • If you are instructed by a primary care provider to self-isolate, make sure you inform your employer, and you will be placed on paid general leave. This will not affect your other leave banks.
  • If you are a casual employee, you will be placed on a general leave of absence and compensated for any accepted shifts that were cancelled because of the self-isolation requirement by a primary care provider.
  • If you contract COVID-19, you will be placed on sick leave until such time as a primary care provider clears you for return to work.
  • Contact your PEA local rep or labour relations officer if you have concerns about how your time is being coded if you are self-isolated.
  • **Members who choose to travel outside of Canada after the March 12, 2020 direction of the Provincial Medical Health Officer to restrict travel, and to self-isolate for 14 days upon return, are not covered by general leave provisions for the 14-day self-isolation period. Travel after March 12 is a personal decision you would be taking against the advice and direction of public health officials. You may want to check with your travel insurer what their position is on this situation.

WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH MY GRIEVANCE DURING THIS PERIOD?

  • The HPSBA and HEABC have reached an agreement to waive timelines for Employer responses to grievances.  The waiver applies to all stages of the grievance process.  This means that, if you have a grievance filed and in process, you will not hear about any stages in the process taking place for the period of the temporary agreement.  The agreement is in effect until April 30, 2020, at which time the parties will assess the process.

MY GRIEVANCE WAS REFERRED TO ARBITRATION. WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH IT NOW?

  • The PEA has conduct of grievances that have been referred to arbitration.  They may have ongoing discussions with the employer in relation to the resolution of those grievances.  The grievances may also be set for hearing.  The lawyers will contact you if there is a development with your grievance.  However, the HSPBA and HEABC have agreed that matters previously set for hearing until May 18 will be adjourned and rescheduled.  The PEA will be in contact with you about this process, and about any rescheduling of hearing dates. 

HEALTH AUTHORITY RESOURCES

  • Interior Health : https://news.interiorhealth.ca/covid-19/
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: http://www.vch.ca/about-us/news/vancouver-coastal-health-statement-on-coronavirus
  • Island Health: https://www.islandhealth.ca/
  • Northern Health: https://www.northernhealth.ca/
  • Fraser Health: https://www.fraserhealth.ca/employees/clinical-resources/coronavirus-information/fraser-health-employee-information#.XnU5pYhKhnI
  • PHSA: http://www.phsa.ca/staff-resources/covid-19-resources-for-staff
  • Providence: http://covid19.providencehealthcare.org/

 

In this section

The PEA was formed in 1974, by a group of professionals working in the public sector. The story goes that the founders of the union mortgaged their houses to fund negotiations of the union’s first collective agreement. 

Now, the PEA is BC’s union for professionals. We represent a wide range of professionals including lawyers, foresters, engineers, agrologists, teachers, veterinarians, fundraisers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, psychologists program managers, librarians and more.

Our union is led by the PEA Executive. They represent members from across the chapters of the PEA and set the overall vision and direction for our union.

Resources for our members

Navigating a union can sometime be a challenging process. Under this section of the website you will find resources to help you navigate the PEA. In the members section you'll find expense claim reimbursements, information on the PEA's scholarship and bursary program and our grants and donations program.

Collective bargaining and job action resources explain the process of collective bargaining and what to do in the unlikely event of job action. 

Local reps can also find resources to help them complete their job more effectively. This includes ways to welcome new members, how to take notes in investigation disciplinary meetings and more.

The heart of our union

The PEA is made up of nine chapters, or groups of members who either work for the same employer or are in the same field of work. Each chapter has an elected executive tasked with running the affairs of the chapter. Each chapter is entitled to representation at the PEA Executive, the governing body of the union. 

Our members work for a range of employers: the Province of BC, the University of Victoria, St. Margaret's School, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, the Oil and Gas Commission, the Law Society of BC, Legal Services Society, the Okangan Regional Library and health authorities across BC.

Professionals need unions now more then ever

Since the 1970’s, when the PEA was formed, our mission has been to ensure our members can work in safe, productive environments and receive fair and reasonable wages and benefits for the valuable work they do. We help individuals and groups of professional workers to understand the challenges they face in their workplaces and some of the solutions available to them. 

We work with potential members to become certified as a union and achieve the wages, benefits and respect they deserve. 

The Professional | Volume 46 Issue 1

The Professional is the PEA's award-winning, quarterly magazine for members.

The January-February 2020 issue includes a Vancouver Sun op/ed piece from PEA Executive Director Scott McCannell on the Legal Services Society strike.

Read the January-February 2020 issue

 

 

The PEA was formed in 1974 to represent licensed professionals in the BC Public Service. Since then the organization has grown to include a wide range of professionals from across BC. Find our more about our governance, staff and strategic direction.

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