The CBA pandemic resource for lawyers addresses workplace issues surrounding widespread disease outbreaks

  • November 28, 2014

Ottawa – Ebola, and pandemics generally, are a worldwide concern.  To address the workplace issues around pandemics and help lawyers meet the challenges that will inevitably arise, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has produced an online document, Pandemics and the Workplace – A Resource for Lawyers.

“The resource looks at how the law might come into play when a contagious disease begins to spread through a community, and then when a pandemic occurs,” says Sheila Osborne-Brown, co-chair of the working group that produced the document.

“It covers many issues including pandemic plans, vaccination requirements, work refusals, forced absences, compassionate care leave and doctor’s notes,” she adds.

The CBA’s national Labour and Employment Law Section, with members representing both labour and management from across Canada, undertook the initiative to help lawyers prepare their clients for a pandemic and to advise them during a pandemic.  The document will be of interest to lawyers who advise employers, unions and employees, as well as in-house counsel and the leadership of law firms.

Focusing on the legal context, the resource follows the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic timeline in its six phases.  During phases 1, 2 and 3, there is little sign of human illness and no community outbreaks. This is the time to plan.

The pandemic alert period – phases 4 and 5 – is when there is human-to-human spread of illness.  During this time, the guide recommends mitigation measures.  For example, in a non-emergency situation employees may be required to advise two people that they are sick.  What happens if both those people are unavailable?  Or what if the IT people are sick and no one has access to passwords?

Phase 6 marks the onset of a full-blown pandemic, as defined by the WHO.  At this time, schools may be closed and employees may need to stay home with children.  Workers may require   a doctor’s note to return to work, but may be unable to obtain one as they may be discouraged from visiting the doctor’s office to reduce spread of the disease.

The resource also includes a section to help organizations develop a pandemic plan by setting out the questions they should be asking themselves.

Throughout, the resource references legislation and cases from most Canadian jurisdictions that could have relevance in a pandemic.  “We also include commentary and do our best to provide guidance in a field of law that is relatively new and as yet untested,” concludes Sheila Osborne-Brown.

Please contact us at to obtain a copy of the report, a CBA member only benefit.

The CBA is dedicated to supporting the rule of law, improvements in the law, and the administration of justice. Some 36,000 lawyers, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.