The past few days have seen multiple announcements from governments across Canada. To help make things easier for employers, below are the key government announcements made on March 20, 2020 that touch on workplace issues. These changes will undoubtedly affect many of your businesses.
Our overview of previous government announcements, employment analyses and other COVID-19 information is available here.
The Federal Government
The Government of Canada released a statement providing more information on the non-essential travel restrictions for the Canada-US border. The government recognizes the need to preserve supply chains between both countries to ensure that “food, fuel, and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border.” The travel restrictions will come into effect at midnight on Saturday, March 21, 2020, and will be in place for thirty (30) days, at which point they will be reviewed.
During his daily briefing, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada’s Plan to Mobilize Industry to fight COVID-19. This initiative will provide support and deploy resources to domestic manufacturers and businesses that are already making things like masks, ventilators, and hand sanitizers, to massively scale up production in response to COVID-19. It will also provide support to those who want to re-tool their existing manufacturing lines and shift their production to develop products that will help in the fight against COVID-19, including critical health and safety supplies and equipment, personal protective equipment, sanitization products, diagnostic and testing products, and disease tracking technology.
There were no major government announcements prior to 5:00pm EDT.
The Legislative Assembly is scheduled to sit on Monday, March 23, 2020. The government is expected to pass legislation amending the Employment Standards Act, introducing new unpaid leave provisions which will protect job security for workers who cannot work because of circumstances related to COVID-19.
The Workers Compensation Board of BC provided updated guidelines for “staying safe at work” during the COVID-19 outbreak, which describe social distancing and other preventative measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.
These social distancing guidelines include the following:
Evaluate your work tasks and workspace
- Can you reduce or suspend non-essential work, to allow some workers to stay home?
- Can any of your workers perform work tasks remotely (e.g. work from home)?
- Can you alternate and/or add additional shifts to reduce the risk of exposure and improve social distancing?
- Can you position the workers who are performing your essential business tasks further apart and still get the tasks done?
- Can any of your workers perform work tasks in a location that allows them to put more distance between themselves and their co-workers or customers?
Involve your joint health and safety committee
- Get your joint health and safety committee (or worker representative) involved in brainstorming social distancing measures that could work in the spaces they work in.
- Have your joint committee consider the interactions they have with others.
- Get your joint committee involved in promoting approved social distancing measures.
Change the way space is used and shared at your workplace
- Minimize sharing of office space, including work vehicles. When you do share, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces before you leave the space (like you do at the gym). For vehicles, this includes the steering wheel, gear shift, and radio. For desks this includes the computer keyboard and mouse, desk surface, and phone.
- Schedule rotating coffee and meal breaks to allow for 1-2 metres distance between workers in all break rooms, and do not share food or drink (no buffets).
- Cancel in-person meetings and hold meetings by teleconference, video conference, or email instead.
- Use work vehicles as satellite offices, for workers who can download work on their phone or portable computer.
- Field workers should muster from home, rather than from an office, where feasible.
- Make the message clear that the friendliest thing your workers can do for their co-workers and customers is keep a distance of 1-2 metres between themselves and the people they work with.
- Encourage workers to use a standard greeting with each other that is positive but reminds others to keep a safe distance.
The government declared a province-wide state of emergency to protect Manitobans and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As a result, the following measures will be in place, for a period of thirty (30) days:
1. public gatherings (both outdoor and indoor) are limited to 50 people or less (this includes places of worship, family events, weddings, etc.);
2. retail businesses including grocery or food stores, shopping centres, pharmacies or gas stations must ensure separation of one to two metres between patrons assembling in the business;
3. public transportation facilities must also ensure that people are reasonably able to maintain a separation of 1-2 metres from others;
4. hospitality premises where food or alcohol is served (including theatres, places of live performances or dance, and cinemas) cannot have more than fifty (50) people or 50% of the capacity of the premises, whichever is lesser. Further, such establishments must ensure social distancing of at least 1-2 metres between customers;
5. all bingo and gaming event premises must be closed; and
6. all wellness centres offering physical activities, gyms, fitness centres and athletic clubs and training facilities must be closed.
In addition to declaring a state of emergency, the government of Manitoba has committed to investing $27.6 million to assist essential front-line workers in securing child-care. Details on how these funds will be allocated, including details on how to apply, are available here.
The province has also added resources to the Health Links-Info Santé, including more phone lines and staff. New testing sites are also being added and employers should continue to encourage employees to contact the Health Links-Info Santé line if they exhibit any symptoms, have returned from travel abroad, and/or are concerned that they may have been in contact with someone who displayed symptoms, returned from travel and/or tested positive for COVID-19.
As previously reported, the government declared a state of emergency under section 12 of the Emergency Measures Act (the “Act”). In order to assist with the directives outlined in our previous post, the government released an interpretive guide to give greater insight on how the state of emergency affects various businesses. The provincial public health authority also announced it is also creating a questionnaire that employers may use to screen individuals before they enter their premises, including workers, customers and other members of the public.
On the fiscal side, business property taxes must still be paid by May 31; however, late penalties may be waived on a case-by-case basis for businesses facing undue financial challenges (e.g. a closure) due to COVID-19. WorkSafeNB will be waiving workers’ compensation premiums for businesses for three (3) months.
Newfoundland and Labrador
On March 20, 2020, the Chief Medical Officer of Health issued a Special Measures Order (Amending Order) pursuant to the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act. Effective March 20, 2020, all individuals arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador from outside the province must self-isolate for 14 days, including those individuals arriving from other provinces and territories in Canada.
On March 20, 2020, the government of Nova Scotia announced the following initiatives to assist businesses impacted by COVID-19:
$161 million to immediately address cash flow and access to credit for Nova Scotia small and medium sized businesses;
deferring payments and interest on government loans, including those under Job Funds, Municipal Finance Corporation, and Housing Nova Scotia;
deferring business related fees until June 30, 2020. A list of these “fees” will be available online in the coming days;
deferring workers’ compensation premiums. It is unclear for how long these premiums will be deferred and which businesses will qualify for the deferrals;
deferring loan payments under the Small Business Loan Guarantee Program administered through Nova Scotia credit unions until June 30, 2020. This same program will be enhanced by the government, making it easier for small businesses to access credit of up to $500,000. For those who might not otherwise qualify for a loan, the government will guarantee the first $100,000;
payments on student loans will be suspended automatically until September 30, 2020; and
a further investment of $15 million to incentivize internet providers to speed up projects to expand internet access across the province.
The provincial government has not provided specifics about the above noted programs and investments at this time.
Finally, the Premier of Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil, noted that an announcement of an “aggressive package” of capital projects would be announced on Monday, March 23, 2020.
Prince Edward Island
The government has now introduced their online self-assessment tool to assist individuals to determine whether they should be tested for COVID-19.
The provincial Chief Public Health Officer has asked all non-essential businesses to close. All essential businesses are being asked to stay open which include grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, gas stations and auto repair shops. Takeout and delivery at restaurants is permitted to continue.
In a press conference, Premier Ford publicly declined to order all non-essential businesses to close at this time. However, he indicated that “all options remain on the table” going forward, including orders for all non-essential workers to remain at home similar to what has now occurred in the state of California.
As schools remained closed, the province also announced new education resources for students to learn at home.
On March 19, 2020, the City of Toronto asked all non-essential businesses to close within the city, and continued to encourage working from home.
The government expects to announce accelerated infrastructure projects in the coming days as part of its economic plans to deal COVID-19.
In order to ensure orderly construction projects, the government has asked construction sector employers to take the following precautions:
- provide employees with access to soap and water to wash hands regularly;
- to provide more trailers at work sites so employees can practice safe distancing; and
- to ensure sick workers stay home.
The Premier commented that the media has been providing an essential service, and indicated the government is reviewing options to assist the media who are experiencing COVID-related declines in advertising revenues.
The government also acknowledged it expects schools and CEGEPs to remain closed for the foreseeable future, with a target return for public schools in May and a conclusion of the CEGEP year in the summer.
On March 20, 2020, the Saskatchewan government announced a financial support plan for Saskatchewan employers and employees hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following government initiatives were announced:
Changes to Employment Standards Regulations: The regulations have been amended to:
- ensure that during a public emergency, businesses will not have to provide notice or pay in lieu of notice when they temporarily lay-off staff if it is for a period of 12 weeks or less in a 16-week period; and
- if an employer lays off employees periodically for a total of more than 12 weeks in a 16-week period, the employees are considered to be terminated and are entitled to pay instead of notice as outlined in the Saskatchewan Employment Act. This will be calculated from the date on which the employee was laid off.
For past announcements relating to the Saskatchewan Employment Act, see our earlier bulletin here.
- Three Month PST Remittance Deferral and Audit Suspension: Effective immediately, Saskatchewan businesses that are unable to remit their PST due to cash flow concerns will have relief from penalty and interest charges. Businesses that are unable to file their provincial tax return(s) by the due date may submit a request for relief from penalty and interest charges on the return(s) affected. Further, audit program and compliance activities have been suspended.
- Self-Isolation Support Program: The province will provide eligible residents $450 per week, for a maximum of two weeks or $900. The program will be targeted at Saskatchewan residents forced to self-isolate that are not covered by recent federally announced employment insurance programs and other supports.
- Crown Utility Interest Deferral Program: The province will waive interest on late bill payments for up to six months.
- Student Loan Repayment Moratorium: Effective immediately, a six-month student loan repayment moratorium has been put in place.
Additionally, Premier Scott Moe signed an order pursuant to the provincial State of Emergency directing that all orders of the government and Chief Medical Health Officer must be followed and that law enforcement agencies in Saskatchewan have the full authority to enforce those orders.
In consultation with the Minister of Health, the following measures are effective immediately:
- all persons that have travelled internationally, or have been identified by a Medical Health Officer as a close contact of a person or persons with novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) shall go into mandatory self-isolation for fourteen (14) days from date of arrival back into Canada;
- public gatherings of more than twenty-five (25) people in one room are prohibited except where two metre distancing between people can be maintained; workplace and meeting settings where people are distributed into multiple rooms or buildings; and retail locations (ie. grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations);
- the closure of all nightclubs, bars, lounges and similar facilities. Take out of alcohol or food products so permitted with two metre distancing between customers and the delivery of alcohol or food products;
- in-person classes in all primary and secondary educational institutions both public and private are suspended; and
- visitors to long-term care homes, hospitals, personal care homes, and group homes shall be restricted to family visiting for compassionate reasons.
The following measures are also required effective Monday, March 23, 2020:
- the closure of restaurants, food courts, cafeterias, cafes, bistros and similar facilities. Exceptions are take out with two metre distancing between customers during pick-up; drive through food services; delivery of food products; soup kitchens, not-for-profit community and religious kitchens with two metre distancing between tables;
- the closure of all recreational and entertainment facilities;
- the closure of all personal service facilities;
- the closure of dental, optometrist, chiropractic, registered massage therapy and podiatry clinics except for non-elective procedures; and
- all daycare facilities are limited to maximum of eight (8) children unless they can configure the facility so that a maximum of eight children are kept in room and be in accordance with the Saskatchewan child care guidelines for care.
Also on March 20, 2020, the government announced that it is re-purposing child care facilities in schools to provide child care services to support staff in health care and other employees who are delivering services related to the pandemic response, beginning Monday, March 23, 2020.
Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon
In the Yukon, the Chief Medical Officer of Health provided an update regarding the territory’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, there are additional restrictions for those visiting hospitals, child care programs are remaining in place, and the government is setting up a respiratory assessment centre in Whitehorse for people with acute respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19, that need medical assessment.
The Yukon’s Legislative Assembly ended its spring sitting early due to the public health emergency. An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (2020) received first reading and will remain on the order paper until the Fall sitting, expected to begin October 1, 2020. The proposed amendments would introduce a new protected leave for domestic or sexualized violence. No COVID-19 related amendments are in the current form of the legislation.
In Nunavut, the government approved $531,000 to cover potential lost fees for child-care workers in licensed facilities in the territory. The government confirmed all essential health services will continue and all health care staff will be redeployed as necessary. The status of health services is listed on the government’s update.
In the Northwest Territories, as the majority of government employees are working from home, the government has posted its program and service availability during COVID-19. The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) is continuing to adjust operations, and has listed changes to its services as of March 19, 2020. Additional updates will be posted on the NTHSSA website.