Quebec's labour minister is calling on employers and workers to respect the province's new rules, including finding a way around the need for a lab COVID-19 test to prove illness.

On Tuesday, public health authorities announced that because testing centres are overwhelmed, PCR tests will only be available to certain categories of people, including health-care workers in direct contact with patients, Indigenous people, and the homeless.

That puts workers who have COVID-19 symptoms but aren't in those priority categories into a tough spot when their employer requires a lab test as proof that the employee is indeed infected.

Meanwhile, access to rapid tests is also still a problem in Quebec, although the situation is expected to improve over the next few days.

Another new rule reduces the isolation period from 10 days to five for people who meet certain criteria. A second follow-up test is not required to show the illness has gone away -- the criteria revolve more around symptoms and the presence of fever.

"I urge workplaces to follow public health recommendations on isolation," said Labour Minister Jean Boulet on Twitter on Wednesday.

"The CNESST (Quebec's worker safety board) continues its inspections to ensure compliance with health measures."

When asked about the real-world dilemma facing workers, Boulet said the province is working on it.

For example, despite the new restrictions, what if an employer continues to require a PCR test as proof of COVID, either for sick leave or to demand someone's return to work? Should an employee in that situation complain to the CNESST?

Boulet said that "details will be provided by the ministry tomorrow [Thursday] and tools will be made available to workers and employers through the CNESST site, as we have said we have been doing since the start of the pandemic."


The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, argues that its members have few options here, since they must have healthy employees in order to function and, therefore, that screening tests must be made available.

"It is important, necessary and strategic to restore access to PCR tests for all sectors of economic activity and to improve the population's supply of rapid tests," said François Vincent, vice-president for the Quebec from the CFIB.

"This is one of the keys to being able to live with COVID-19 and, currently, small businesses and citizens do not have access to these keys."

He said that the CFIB has been asking for easy access to rapid tests as early as February 2021. "And we were being told 'this is unreliable,'" he said.

Vincent pointed out that many SMEs have fewer than five employees and that for one of them, having a single employee with COVID-19 and in isolation means depriving yourself of 20 per cent of your workforce, in the midst of a time of labour scarcity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 5, 2022, with files from CTV Montreal.