COVID-19 announcements are being made on a daily basis across Canada, including with yesterday's announcements by the Ontario and Quebec governments of the closure of all non-essential services. To help make things easier for employers, below are the key government announcements made on March 23, 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 main highlights from the Prime Minister's daily briefing were as follows:
- the House of Commons will be reconvening to pass emergency legislation in response to COVID-19 on March 24, 2020. Full details of the legislation have not yet been provided;
- the Prime Minister announced new measures to support farmers and agri-food businesses in Canada facing financial hardship due to the impacts of COVID-19; and
- the Prime Minister also announced support to mobilize Canadian researchers and life sciences companies to support large-scale efforts towards countermeasures to combat COVID-19, including potential vaccines and treatments.
On March 23, 2020, the Alberta Government announced a number of measures to provide relief for employers.
Workers Compensation Benefits premiums will be deferred for private sector businesses, and the province will provide support for small and medium businesses as follows:
- WCB premiums are now deferred until early 2021, effectively for one year;
- employers who have already paid their WCB premium payment for 2020 are eligible for a rebate or credit;
- for small and medium businesses, the government will cover 50 per cent of the premium when it is due; and
- large employers will also receive a break by having their 2020 WCB premium payments deferred until 2021, at which time their premiums will be due.
In addition, the Alberta government announced the following additional relief for businesses:
- effective immediately, the government will defer education property tax for businesses for six months; and
- the collection of corporate income tax balances and instalment payments is deferred until August 31, 2020.
As a result of these changes, it is estimated that $458 million in cash will remain with employers to help pay employees and continue operations.
At this time, the Alberta Government is not imposing any mandatory shutdown on non-essential businesses. We will monitor this situation and provide an update if there is any announcements of increased measures.
On March 23, 2020 the government introduced and passed Bill 16: Employment Standards Amendment Act (No 2), 2020 which amends BC's Employment Standards Act (the "Act").
The amended Act provides for "COVID-19 Related Leave," in circumstances where an employee requests leave because:
(a) the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
(b) the employee is in quarantine or self-isolation;
(c) the employer, due to the employer's concern about the employee's exposure to others, has directed the employee not to work;
(d) the employee is providing care to an eligible person, including because of the closure of a school or daycare;
(e) the employee is outside of British Columbia and cannot return to British Columbia because of travel or border restrictions; and
(f) other situations that may be later prescribed by government regulations.
An "eligible person" will include a child under the day-to-day care and control of the employee, adults who are unable to obtain the necessities of life, and parents of the employee who are under the day-to-day care and control of the employee. Employees are entitled to leave for the amount of time that the above circumstances exist and apply to the employee. Employees must, if requested by an employer, provide "sufficient proof" that a circumstance warranting leave exists. However, an employee will not be required to provide a note from a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse.
COVID-19 Related Leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020.
Employees who have been terminated as a result of a COVID-19 Related leave circumstances (except for additional circumstances that may be introduced by regulation, in the future), must be offered re-employment by the employer in the same or comparable position. Any period of time between the termination and re-employment is deemed to be an unpaid COVID-19 Related Leave of Absence.
The amended Act will also provide for general unpaid sick leave which allows for up to 3 days of leave for reasons of personal illness or injury in each employment year. Employees must be employed for 90 consecutive days to be eligible for this leave. Employees must provide reasonably sufficient proof of entitlement, as soon as is practicable, after an employer requests proof of entitlement for this leave.
Separately, the government also issued new guidelines for operating construction sites during the COVID-19 pandemic.
No major governmental updates as of 5:00 pm E.D.T. on March 23, 2020.
No major governmental updates as of 5:00 pm E.D.T. on March 23, 2020.
Newfoundland and Labrador
On March 23, 2020, the Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Medical Officer of Health issued a Special Measures Order (Revised Order)(PDF), which replaces all previous Special Measures Orders under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act. Notably, the Revised Order expanded the list of businesses that are required to close and further restricted the size of permissible gatherings. In accordance with the Revised Order, the following businesses are required to immediately close:
- gyms and fitness facilities, including yoga studios, tennis and squash facilities;
- dance studios;
- performance spaces;
- bingo halls;
- personal services establishments including spas, esthetic services, hair salons, body piercing, tattooing and tanning salons;
- retail stores, unless those stores provide services essential to the life, health or personal safety of individuals or animals including:
- pharmaceutical products, medicine and medicinal devices;
- personal hygiene products;
- baby and child products;
- gas stations;
- computer and cellphone service and repair;
- electronic and office supplies;
- hardware supplies; and
- pet and animal supplies;
- businesses that hold a license under the Liquor Control Act whose primary purpose is the consumption of beer, wine, or spirits, and that do not otherwise qualify as an exception under the Revised Order;
- the in-person dining section of restaurants (take-out, delivery and drive-thru services) are permitted.
The Revised Order further requires that gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less. A gathering includes funerals, visitations and weddings. Visitation to personal care homes is prohibited, except for exceptional circumstances including end of life.
The 14 day self-isolation requirement for all individuals arriving in the province from outside of the province - including from other provinces and territories - continues to apply. However, certain individuals and workers remain exempt from the self-isolation requirement in accordance with the March 21, 2020 Exemption Order(PDF). These exemptions were set out in our Weekend Workplace Wrap-up.
On March 22, 2020, Nova Scotia declared (PDF) a state of emergency. Pursuant to the state of emergency, it was announced that all individuals coming into the province, by air, ferry, or land, would be checked at the border and told to self-isolate for fourteen (14) days.
During its daily press conference on March 23, 2020, the government provided clarification on the individuals who will not need to self-isolate upon entering the province. These individuals include:
- health care workers;
- those who work in financial institutions;
- those in manufacturing of essential goods;
- those in construction; and
- truckers supporting trades.
Further, an "essential service line" will be created at the land border to allow these individuals into the province faster.
It was also clarified at the press conference that employers must provide a working environment where employees can be 2 metres (or about 6 feet) away from one another, unless there is an essential service component to the business. The government reiterated that the onus is on employers to provide an appropriate workplace for employees.
Finally, the government launched a COVID-19 virtual self-assessment online tool, which may be accessed here.
In a press conference held on March 23, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced a major development in the management of the COVID-19 crisis: the immediate shut down of all non-essential services in Ontario.
This shutdown will be effective from Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. E.D.T., for at least two weeks.
A preliminary list of businesses that will be permitted to remain open was released, last night. The finalized list is expected later today, March 24, 2020. The province has indicated that throughout the shutdown, "essential services may continue their operations to maintain supply chains and ensure the people of Ontario have access to necessities, including groceries, medicines and other essential products."
A 1-800 number is being released by the government for inquiries today.
For employers, this means that non-essential employees will no longer be allowed to come to work at their work establishments if they are located within the province. For employees already working remotely, this will not have any impact. If employers can have employees work remotely (i.e. from home) and have not made arrangements for employees to do so yet, they should take immediate steps to make those arrangements in time for the shutdown.
The government also launched a website calling for submissions from businesses and organizations who can supply emergency products and innovative solutions to support the government's response to COVID-19.
Prince Edward Island
The Chief Public Health Officer was granted the power to issue orders under the Public Health Act as needed, including fines to anyone who is not complying with any directions to self-isolate. The penalties outlined by the government for individuals who do not comply include:
- a fine of $1,000 for a first offence;
- a fine of $2,000 for a second offence; or,
- a fine of $10,000 for a third offence and ever offence thereafter.
In a press conference held on March 23, 2020, Premier Legault announced a major development in the management of the COVID-19 crisis: the immediate shut down of all non-essential activities in the Province of Quebec to take action in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
This shutdown will be effective from Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at midnight until April 13, 2020.
The province has set out a list of essential services permitted to remain open during the shutdown.
For employers, this means that employees will no longer be allowed to come to work at their non-essential establishments if they are located in the province. For employees already working remotely, this will not have any impact. Workers who have not yet transitioned to remote work (work from home) but can so are now forced to make the transition.
SaskatchewanOn March 23, 2020, the Saskatchewan government launched the Business Response Team to support businesses in the province dealing with economic challenges resulting form COVID-19. The Business Response Team, led by the Ministry of Trade and Export Development, will work with businesses to identify program supports available to them both provincially and federally. Details can be found here.
Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon
As the Government of Yukon reported its first two cases of COVID-19, it announced further public health measures and restrictions, including the following:
- all Yukoners returning home and all visitors are required to self-isolate for 14 days;
- all restaurants must immediately reduce their seating capacity to 50 per cent;
- all bars are now closed;
- all personal service establishments must close by end of day, March 25, 2020; and
- gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.
Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health strongly advises the suspension of all non-essential travel into and out of Yukon and of any non-essential travel to the territory's rural communities.
In Nunavut, there were no major employment-related announcements from the government on March 23, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. EDT. The Government of the Northwest Territories' website was not accessible and we were not able to confirm whether there were major employment-related announcements for the Northwest Territories on March 23,2020 at 5:00 p.m. EDT.