On March 23, 2021, Alberta’s provincial government (the “Government”) announced the expansion of its rapid testing program (the “Program”) to include more public, private and not-for-profit employers and service providers across Alberta. The Program allows eligible employers and service providers to apply to receive free-of-charge rapid testing kits, to be used as part of their COVID-19 screening programs.
Previously, the rapid testing program was made available to specific industries on a priority basis, namely, long-term care facilities, schools, outbreak sites, hospitals, and homeless shelters. Through that earlier rollout, the Government supplied approximately 1.2 million rapid tests to those industries, and this expansion will see at least 2 million rapid tests made available. While the hope appears to be that these tests will be made available to a larger number of industries, the Government will continue to prioritize organizations which work with vulnerable populations, high-risk settings and workplaces, first responders, essential services and critical industry, and sectors that support the reopening of economic and social activities.
To apply, employers are required to submit a screening program plan including: protocols for administering the tests; the use of personal protective equipment; and processes for reporting results and managing individuals who screen positive. Of particular note, while a health care provider is required to oversee an entity’s screening program, the tests themselves can be conducted by a qualified layperson.
Employers who intend on obtaining access to rapid tests will need to familiarize themselves with the Government’s Guidance on Asymptomatic Testing.
Notably, the provision and expansion of the Program does not provide entities with the legal authority to proceed with mandatory COVID-19 testing in their workplaces. Accordingly, employers and other organizations should obtain the necessary independent legal advice to ensure that they are complying with all obligations under human rights, labour and employment, privacy, and occupational health and safety laws prior to commencing a rapid testing program or otherwise developing policies with respect to the same.
Miller Thomson’s Alberta Labour and Employment Team have the necessary expertise to help navigate these issues, and we would be pleased to discuss the use of rapid test screening for your business, or any other concerns related to the ongoing global pandemic.