COVID-19 Risk Management Guide for OASW‘S SOCIAL WORKERS

We are living through an unpredictable time across the country, and the world, as we try to reconcile the new reality imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last week alone, governments have asked businesses, and indeed entire societies, to shut down—and unfortunately, no one is certain how long these measures will be enforced.

We all know that we must do whatever we can to flatten the curve and protect the most vulnerable in our society. Still, no matter if you are a business owner, independently employed, or an employee, it is understandable that you may be concerned about the future of your practice and your finances. And, as a healthcare professional, you also have to consider an added complexity: the continuity of care for your patients or clients.

To help you navigate this turbulent landscape, we’ve put together this risk management guide to address the following topics:

  1. Providing Continuity of Care;
  2. Ensuring Financial Resilience;
  3. Understanding the Role of Your OASW Professional Insurance.
Graphic of a business person with a checklist and pencil to showcase the blog post topic of how business insurance will respond to COVID-19


Since public health authorities have asked healthcare professionals to avoid in-person non-essential care whenever possible, many Social Workers have turned to online services as a channel for continued care.

Online services, also called virtual care or telemedicine, are acceptable substitutes for in-person services, provided that you follow the scope of Social Work practice as outlined by the OASW and the OCSWSSW.

Though there is no official framework for virtual care, here are some key factors for Social Workers to consider:

Does the patient/client need urgent or in-person care?

  • If the patient or client needs urgent or in-person care that you cannot provide, you must connect them to an appropriate resource such as a hospital or some other facility.
    • It is also recommended that you visit the College’s website to review any continuity of care policies specific to the Social Work profession.
  • If you do need to provide in-person care, please ensure that you follow all protocols as set out by the Ministry of Health.

Where is the patient currently located?

  • Your OASW insurance policy only covers online services you provide to clients who are residents of Canada.
    • Offering services to a client who is temporarily outside of Canada (which is very possible due to the changing travel restrictions) is still covered under your policy, as long as any lawsuits or allegations are brought against you in Canada only.
  • If the person you are considering providing telephone or online counselling to lives outside of Ontario, place a call to the relevant College of Social Workers in that jurisdiction to inquire about your ability to provide this service across regulatory boundaries.
    • Additionally, you should contact PROLINK to inquire about purchasing separate coverage to extend to lawsuits brought against you in a jurisdiction outside of Canada.
  • In either case, it is important to record both your and your patient’s residency at the beginning of each session.
  • Additionally, the healthcare professional should take care that both they and their client/patient are in a private setting, to preserve confidentiality.

Which platforms can you use?

  • Social Workers should look for virtual platforms that offer end-to-end encryption. In particular, Advanced Encryption Standard 128 “AES 128” encryption is recommended for healthcare providers.
  • While there are no current restrictions in place for using platforms like Skype or FaceTime, it is important to carefully review user agreements to make sure that the platform complies with the applicable provincial privacy legislation. Otherwise, in the event of a privacy breach, you could be held liable for negligence.

How do you obtain proper consent from a client before providing virtual care?

  • Clearly outline which services you can virtually provide. Include any associated costs and limitations of care;
  • Ask patients to opt-in after reviewing a standard set of terms and conditions for virtual care;
  • Document any consent-related discussions within your patient’s records;
  • Create policies for data stewardship (i.e. how you store and transmit information to preserve privacy).

Are there any risks in communicating via email?

  • Email communication should only be used if you can guarantee a secure and encrypted connection. If you do not have an encrypted connection, you should first communicate with patients through the phone and obtain consent to send the unencrypted email.
    • If you are using an unencrypted connection, you should never include personally-identifiable information in the email. This includes name, age, date of birth, address, and more—even if you have consent.
  • Always consult your provincial privacy legislation surrounding the protection of healthcare information (i.e., Personal Health Information Protection Act in Ontario).

Are there any other risks I should be worried about?

  • This pandemic has taken the whole world off-guard, and for many businesses, this will be the first venture into working completely virtual/remote. Infrastructure holes are bound to happen. Every professional should be vigilant, look out for phishing links, and implement proper security software. With the majority of the world working from home, opportunistic cyber criminals will be more active than ever before.
  • If you have never looked into it before, consider Privacy Breach insurance, which will help you investigate and navigate any breach, as well as offer funds to help with credit monitoring fees, notifying affected individuals, responding to privacy regulators, damages or fines that need to be paid to third parties and more.


The government has introduced a host of measures to help individuals, businesses, and the economy-at-large during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some of the government assistance programs that are available to you during this time.

If you are eligible for Employment Insurance:

Who can access Employment Insurance (EI) and how can they apply?

  • FOR? Employees that do not have paid sick leave, and are: sick, quarantined, or caring for others.
  • HOW? Employees can apply anytime. They do not have to wait a week or provide a medical certificate at this time.

Who can access the EI Work-Sharing (EI WS) Program and how can they apply?

  • FOR? Employees who agree to reduce normal working hours as a result of circumstances beyond the control of their employer are eligible for EI benefits up to 76 weeks.
  • HOW? Before the employee applies, the employer must review the Application Guide and provide employees with a copy of the Employee Annex.
  • Completed applications are sent to:
    • Ontario: FAX: 1-866-720-6094
    • Atlantic Provinces: FAX: 1-902-566-7697
    • Quebec: EMAIL: QC-DPMTDS-LMSDPB-TP-WS-GD@servicecanada.gc.ca
    • Western Canada and Territories: FAX 1-604-666-8920

If you are not eligible for Employment Insurance (i.e. are self-employed, or cannot earn an income due to child care needs as a result of school closures):

Who can access the Canada Emergency Response Benefit ($2000 a month up to four months)?

  • FOR?
    • Workers, including self-employed, who are: sick, quarantined, caring for others sick with COVID-19 who do not qualify for EI benefits.
    • Those who are still employed but not receiving income;
    • AND, parents with children who require supervision due to school closures, and cannot earn employment income, regardless of if they qualify for EI or not.
  • Click here to learn more.

If you are a small business owner, you can:

Access a wage subsidy:

  • For small businesses facing revenue loss, the government is proposing a temporary wage subsidy with a duration of up to three months;
  • Subsidy will equate to 75% of remuneration paid during that period: for the latest subsidy updates please visit the government website.
  • Businesses can benefit immediately by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld on their employee’s remuneration.

Defer tax payments:

  • All businesses can defer any income tax amounts owing between March 18, 2020 and September 2020, until August 31, 2020.
  • This applies to tax balances due and installments under Part I of the Income Tax Act.
  • No interest or penalties will apply.

Obtain loans:

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC) are offering support for small businesses through:

  • Small Business Loans: Loans of up to $100,000 to buy equipment, software or cover other business expenses. Businesses can postpone capital payment for the first six months, and repay the loan over four years.
  • Working Capital Loans: Loans of more than $100,000 for working capital to: increase inventory to meet demand or leverage discounts offered by suppliers. Payments can mimic your cash flow patterns, and no personal assets will be taken as collateral.


In the past few weeks, many of our clients have asked questions about how their professional insurance policies will respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are our responses:

Does my OASW Professional Liability Insurance Coverage offer any protection if I am unable to provide a service as per my contract?

  • If you (or a sub-consultant to you) are unable to deliver your professional service and this causes a financial loss to your customer, there may be some coverage under the policy.
  • Unfortunately, if there is decreased demand for your service due to the pandemic, there will be no coverage under this policy.

Does my OASW Professional Liability Insurance cover telemedicine / virtual care services?

  • Yes, your OASW Professional Liability insurance policy covers online services you provide to clients who are residents of Canada.
  • Offering services to a client who is temporarily outside of Canada (which is very possible due to the changing travel restrictions) is still covered under your policy, as long as any lawsuits or allegations are brought against you in Canada only.
  • If the person you are considering providing telephone or online counselling to lives outside of Ontario, place a call to the relevant College of Social Workers in that jurisdiction to inquire about your ability to provide this service across regulatory boundaries.

Do “Clinic Insurance” and “Business Interruption Insurance” cover an outbreak of COVID-19 on my premises?

  • Clinic (Property) Insurance and Business Interruption Insurance are only triggered when there is direct physical damage to, or loss of, the property insured under the policy.
  • While contamination with COVID-19 may render your property unusable for a time, it is unlikely that it would physically damage your property.
  •  As a result, an outbreak of COVID-19 would typically not be covered under your Property Insurance or Business Interruption Insurance.
    • An exception: If a decontaminant you use to disinfect your property following an outbreak causes physical damage, the policy may cover your loss.

What if someone contracts COVID-19 on my premises? Will any of my policies respond then?

  • If you have purchased Commercial General Liability Insurance, then it may respond, as the definition of bodily injury under this policy includes “sickness” or “disease”. This policy would be triggered if any third party visitors claim to acquire COVID-19 on your premises or as a result of your operations.
  • Commercial General Liability Insurance also contains a Personal and Advertising injury limit, which could offer some protection in the event that a third party claims public defamation as a result of contracting the virus on your premises or as a result of your operations.
  • Finally, Commercial General Liability Insurance typically includes an Employer’s Liability limit, which offers coverage for the employer in the event that any employee contracts the virus on-site, or as a result of your operations, and decides to make a claim against you.  It is important to note that Employer’s Liability Insurance only applies for employees that are not required by law to be covered under WSIB.

Am I liable if I ask certain employees to undergo testing or quarantine due to suspected COVID-19 exposure?

  • Yes. It is recommended that employers do not single out employees for testing, as it could imply discrimination.
  • In this case, Employment Practices Insurance (if you’ve purchased it) could help combat allegations stemming from discrimination or harassment based on ethnicity as it relates to increased possibility of contracting or carrying COVID-19.

Will trip cancellation insurance, or my benefits cover me, if I travel now that Canada has issued a worldwide travel advisory?

  • It is likely that any trips that were purchased before the travel advisory went into place will still be eligible for coverage under trip cancellation insurance, travel medical insurance, or any benefits you may have through your workplace (depending on your specific plan).
  • Unfortunately, any trips that were booked after the travel advisory went into place on March 13, 2020, and until the advisory is lifted, will not be covered by any insurance provider.

This is a challenging time for all of us. Your PROLINK team wants to do its best to support you. If you have questions or concerns about your business, your continuity planning, or your health or travel insurance, please connect with us. We are only a call or an email away.


To speak to your OASW Account Manager, please use the form below:

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