University of Toronto's guide to a safe return to work
As government regulations and public health advice continue to evolve, the University is looking ahead to resuming on-site operations that were paused or operating with reduced occupancy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Guide outlines the measures that the University is implementing to protect the health and safety of faculty, librarians, staff, students and other members of the U of T community, and the roles and responsibilities employees have in a safe and health workplace. This information should particularly be reviewed by employees who are returning to the workplace from working remotely, are returning from an approved leave, or who have not been working during COVID-19.
These measures apply to all buildings and areas occupied or operated by the University of Toronto at all campuses and other off-campus locations. This includes spaces that are used by students and other visitors.
This Guide provides general information only. In advance of returning to on-site work, employees will receive from their managers or unit heads details about the specific health and safety measures implemented in their workspace.
The University is working with the Government of Ontario, the City of Toronto, the Region of Peel, and public health authorities to re-open workplaces gradually. Requirements for physical distancing and other measures to mitigate COVID-19 transmission are expected to continue and evolve as circumstances may change and as more information is known about the virus and its transmission.
At U of T, the potential stages of restart will follow the stages set out in Ontario’s framework. For more information on the stages of restart at U of T, please refer to: “UTogether: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto.”
Stages of recovery (resuming operations)
Stage 1 and 2
Only U of T staff and researchers approved to work on campus who are able to maintain physical distance are working at on-site locations during Stage 1 and 2 of the provincial reopening.
In Stage 3 of the provincial reopening, the government allows most of the University’s operations to reopen, although physical distancing and other health and safety requirements remain in place. There continue to be limits on the size of gatherings, which affect classroom formats. U of T’s restaurants and athletic facilities may reopen/continue reopening with fewer restrictions.
While Stages 2 and 3 of the provincial reopening have provided for a responsible opening of many workplaces, the University has been implementing and expects to continue implementing a very gradual return to on-site work. Those who can continue to work from home will do so.
Resumption of any on-site operations must be approved by University leadership before employees can return to campus. If you have questions regarding resumption of specific operations within your unit, please contact your manager or unit head.
Responsibilities prior to resuming operations
Responsibilities of managers and unit heads
Every area of the University will have a detailed plan for the resumption of on-site work. In most areas of the University, managers or unit heads will:
- Determine which positions need to be on-site to support University activities.
- Develop, document, communicate, implement and enforce appropriate operating procedures specific to the unit.
- Provide equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), instructions or other resources required to implement operating procedures.
- Confirm that measures put in place (e.g. physical distancing requirements, PPE requirements) are compliant with accessibility requirements.
- Ensure unit-level enforcement plans are consistent and appropriate in the circumstances.
- Ensure that contractors or external vendors engaged directly by the unit to perform work on site comply with the unit’s operating procedures.
Responsibilities of all employees
All employees returning to on-site work must:
- Review and follow re-entry instructions specific to their work unit.
- Use equipment and/or PPE as specified in unit re-entry procedures.
- Report hazards and concerns to their manager or unit head.
- Request accommodation where applicable by speaking to their manager/unit head or HR.
- Complete the Ontario Ministry of Health self-assessment for COVID-19 if they suspect they have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Work with their managers in the event they fall into an at-risk category in the provincial self-assessment to determine their ability to return to campus, and what accommodations may be required.
- In the case of an employee who tests positive for COVID-19: immediately contact U of T’s Occupational Health Nurse by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Stay home if sick and complete the relevant employee absence self-declaration form after reporting their absence to their manager/unit head.
Responsibilities of Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSCs)
The role of the JHSC, as part of the Internal Responsibility System, remains unchanged. As employees return to work on-campus, Joint Health & Safety Committee members will:
- Ensure the workplace internal responsibility system is functioning by holding regular meetings and conducting monthly workplace inspections to ensure workplace hazards are addressed.
- Participate in applicable hygiene sampling plans, work refusals and critical injury investigations.
- Act as a resource for employees and receive their health and safety concerns when an issue is not resolved with the employee’s supervisor and manager.
- Contact the U of T JHSC Manager, if they have any concerns: email@example.com.
Environmental Health and Safety
Environmental Health and Safety is responsible for:
- Developing and periodically updating general workplace guidelines, in consultation with the appropriate stakeholders, based on the changing COVID-19 situation and public health directives.
- Managing all cases of employees diagnosed with COVID-19, and COVID-19-related health and safety risks at the University via the Occupational Health Nurse.
Procedures in the event of a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case
Any faculty member, librarian, staff or student who tests positive for COVID-19 should immediately take the following actions:
- Report this result directly to U of T’s Occupational Health Nurse by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Report their sickness to their manager in accordance with departmental processes.
- Complete the self-declaration form (student/employee).
Note: Faculty members, librarians or staff who become aware of a probable/confirmed COVID-19 case amongst students, contractors or visitors should also contact the U of T Occupational Health Nurse (OHN). The Occupational Health Team will provide guidance to the unit regarding what to do in the event of a probable/confirmed case. Each situation is different and the OHN will assess on a case by case basis through contact tracing to determine next steps including disinfection of applicable areas (see below).
If an employee/student feels ill with COVID-19 symptoms, they should inform their supervisor/academic lead of this immediately, and contact the Occupational Health Nurse who will provide specific guidance (including the need to go get tested) to the individual who is ill as well as to the applicable supervisor/academic lead regarding what to do while awaiting a test result.
The Occupational Health & Safety team at EHS will work with the appropriate offices to do our best to inform those who have had contact with the individual in U of T workplaces, in keeping with public health directives. Public health authorities may also contact exposed persons as is their usual practice. Please note: ALL CONTACT TRACING for the University MUST be conducted by the Occupational Health Nurse.
Please note that the University must respect the privacy of individuals who are being tested or who have tested positive for COVID-19 and ensure that this information is kept confidential. Managers, Academic Administrators including Deans and Chairs, and Unit Heads should not send any messaging directly to faculty members, librarians, staff, students or others about suspected or confirmed cases. If you have questions regarding appropriate messaging about COVID-19, please contact email@example.com.
Once a risk assessment is completed, instructions on cleaning and disinfection of work areas will be provided by EHS to Caretaking. Caretaking on each of the three campuses have procedures in place to close off the affected areas. Cleaning and disinfection will be completed in compliance with public health guidelines. Notifications regarding disinfection, closure of areas and reopening of areas will be provided.
Measures to reduce the risk of transmission
Unit-level plans can include the following measures:
- Scheduling tasks and workflows to reduce traffic in on-site workplaces. This could include staggered shifts, flexible work arrangements, scheduled rather than drop-in appointments, contactless deliveries, and, wherever possible, providing services online or by phone. Scheduling changes must be consistent with collective agreements, policies, and procedures.
- Reorganizing the physical environment. This could include removing or moving furniture and posting signs and floor stickers to encourage physical distancing, installing physical barriers in areas where physical distancing is difficult or not possible, removing non-essential items from work areas and surfaces, limiting or removing access to communal spaces, and restricting or screening access to buildings. (Consideration must be given to accessibility requirements when making changes to physical workspaces.)
- Increased caretaking. Caretakers will clean high-touch areas in common areas more frequently, and building occupants will be provided with supplies to clean high-touch areas in their immediate workspaces (e.g., countertops, shared equipment and tools).
- Ensuring access to specified personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Communications. This will include promoting COVID-19 awareness and behaviours and communicating workplace health and safety procedures, clearly and often, to employees and to others who may enter the workplace (students, visitors, contractors, the public).
- Eliminating non-essential travel.
Every member of the U of T community is expected to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by following these measures:
- Avoid touching your face, nose or mouth.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, as well as use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Practice proper respiratory etiquette, such as sneezing and coughing into your elbow.
- Do not shake hands, hug or touch others.
- Maintain physical distancing of two metres or more at all times.
- Stay home if you are sick.
Masks and face coverings
Wearing of medical grade masks may be required for protective purposes in certain occupational settings for tasks where there is risk of exposure such as health clinics or research labs. EHS will determine whether N95s, surgical masks or other types of masks are necessary.
Non-medical masks became mandatory for passengers on the TTC on July 2. Municipalities including the City of Toronto and the City of Mississauga have enacted temporary by-laws that require the wearing of a mask or other face covering within enclosed public spaces. Public health authorities recommend that a non-medical mask be used to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 when physical distancing may be challenging or not possible. Such use protects others if the wearer of the mask is infectious, and may also help protect the wearer. While those with symptoms should stay home, there are cases of transmission of the disease from asymptomatic individuals.
The University of Toronto has adopted a policy on non-medical masks or face coverings. All individuals on University of Toronto property must wear non-medical masks or face coverings in common-use indoor University spaces, including classrooms and common areas in residences. The policy will remain in effect as long as Ontario public health authorities recommend that mask-wearing is necessary in indoor public spaces.
The University is arranging for the distribution of two non-medical masks for all members of the community, including faculty, librarians, staff, and students for their personal use. Information regarding the use of masks is continuing to evolve, and the University will communicate any changes to its current strategy appropriately.
The University’s measures are temporary and include exemptions for specific groups such as those with a underlying medical condition which inhibits their ability to wear a mask, those who are behind a physical barrier separating them from others, and children under the age of two.
Masks or face coverings may also be removed when taking part in an athletic or fitness activity or where necessary for the purposes of receiving services.
When you wear a non-medical mask (or other items such as gloves) when commuting, please ensure that you change masks (and gloves) when coming on campus. Please wash masks regularly. Perform hand hygiene between changes.
For the latest information about U of T’s COVID-19 response, please see the University’s UTogether page. Please take the time to review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and the Human Resources & Equity page on COVID-19. If you or members of your unit have a question that is not covered, please consider using the Contact Us button located at the top of the FAQ section to submit your question.