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 17, 2020 that touch on workplace issues. Our overview of previous government announcements is available in our previous bulletin titled COVID-19 & Workplace Government Updates: A Cross-Canada Review.
These changes will undoubtedly affect many of your businesses. For more information on temporary layoff and other options for your employees outside Quebec, please see our earlier workforce planning bulletin.
The Federal Government
On March 17, 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the federal government is considering recalling Parliament for a brief sitting in order to pass legislative measures to allow the government to take action on Employment Insurance ("EI") and other measures. No specific details were revealed with respect to the anticipated legislative changes. We can expect that details will be forthcoming.
The Government of Canada notice now states that those who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.
On March 17, 2020, Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of emergency under the Public Health Act. As a result, a number of new public health measures were recommended to limit the potential transmission of COVID-19. The following are the recommended measures that may impact employers and employees:
- Albertans are prohibited from attending recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities until further notice (i.e. arenas, sports facilities, museums, casinos, libraries, children play centres etc.).
- Conferences, worship gatherings and family gatherings of over 50 people (such as weddings and funerals) should be cancelled.
Establishments that are exempt from the recommended measures include:
- healthcare facilities, grocery stores, airports and essential services; and
- non-profit and charity groups such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters that perform essential services.
As previously mentioned, on March 13, 2020, the Alberta Government announced plans to implement paid job-protected leave for workers affected by COVID-19. However as of 4:00 p.m. MST, March 17, 2020, we are still waiting for the details of the proposed changes and draft legislation.
On March 17, 2020, Premier John Horgan declared a Public Health Emergency under the British Columbia Public Health Act.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry directed that businesses in British Columbia provide opportunities for "social distancing," defined as a space of 1 – 2 meters, between persons. Additional regulations or orders are expected in the coming days.
Premier Horgan also announced that the British Columbia Government was in the process of drafting amendments to BC's Employment Standards Act ("BC ESA"), but these amendments would not be made prior to the federal government's changes to EI.
On March 17, 2020, the government announced new proactive measures to help reduce the impact of COVID-19. These measures include:
- suspending services at licensed child-care centres, effective end-of-day on Friday, March 20, 2020. Home-based child-care providers can continue to operate;
- creating dedicated child care options for front-line and essential services staff who need them (these include front-line healthcare providers, firefights, police officers or paramedics). If alternatives are not secured, essential service staff are asked to contact 204-945-0776 or 1-888-213-4754 (toll-free); and
- closing all casinos effective midnight, March 17, 2020.
In addition to the above-noted measures, the government is requesting that:
- all Manitobans cancel or postpone any non-essential international travel, and that international travellers returning to the province self-isolate for 14 days; and
- all gatherings of more than 50 people be cancelled.
The government has also created a new self-assessment tool for individuals to determine whether they need to call Health Links-Info Santé to possibly get a referral for testing or to self-isolate. Employees who notify employers of symptoms or who are feeling sick can be directed to this tool to determine if they are recommended for testing and/or self-isolation by the applicable health authority.
As of March 17, 2020, the government announced that only public-sector employees who work in critical functions or areas that support critical functions will remain on the job. The City of Fredericton provided guidance on the essential services continuing to operate, which include: potable water, sewage treatment, police and fire services, road clearing, garbage collection, public communications and public transit.
Premier Blaine Higgs announced that he is working directly with the federal government to ensure there is a coordinated approach to assist small businesses and individuals who need help.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Effective March 17, 2020, all in-school class instruction will be suspended throughout the province. In addition, early childhood education and daycare centres as well as the College of the North Atlantic will be closed. Further details will be forthcoming from school boards.
As of March 14, 2020, direction has been provided for all public service employees who have returned from out of province travel to self-isolate for 14 days. All other employees in the provinces who are able to work from home are being asked to do so. Work from home arrangements are currently being made for public sector workers.
As of 5:00 p.m. ADT on March 17, 2020, the following measures have been put in place (notwithstanding there is not a provincial state of emergency declared):
- all public schools and daycares in the province are closed and will remain closed until at least April 3, 2020;
- group gatherings have been limited to less than 50 people; and
- beginning Thursday, March 19, 2020, restaurants will only be able to provide take out or delivery food.
As reported in our previous bulletin, on March 17, 2020, the Ontario Government declared a state of emergency. As a result of this declaration and its associated orders, the following establishments are legally required to close immediately:
- All facilities providing indoor recreational programs;
- All public libraries;
- All private schools as defined in the Ontario Education Act;
- All licensed child care centres;
- All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery;
- All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and
- Concert venues.
Prince Edward Island
On March 16, 2020, Premier Dennis King declared a public health emergency.
On March 17, 2020, Premier King announced a $25-million dollar COVID-19 emergency fund for individuals, employees, small business operators and other employers that are financially affected by the current circumstances.
A public COVID-19 hotline is now open for employers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as of today. The phone number is 1-866-222-1751.
P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, has advised that non-essential government services and licensed and unlicensed child-care centres are to close along with dental clinics, bars, theatres and in-room dining at restaurants.
On March 17, 2020, Premier François Legault stated that specific measures would be taken to help businesses with liquidity problems. Discussions in this regard will be underway to work with the federal government and the Business Development Bank of Canada. In response to a question, Premier Legault also indicated that the federal government may soon take action to compensate the self-employed workers who have no symptoms of the virus and have therefore no access to current government programs offered. Otherwise, the Quebec Government may expand its new program, the PATT (Temporary Assistance Workers Program).
Premier Legault asked for understanding from employers and reminded them that this is not the time to ask for a doctor's note. He also reiterated the importance of allowing a 14-day absence for employees returning from international travel.
The Quebec Government also announced the enlargement of essential services personnel that will have access to emergency daycare services.
On March 17, 2020, the government introduced the following amendments to the Saskatchewan Employment Act ("Act"):
- to remove the requirement of 13 consecutive weeks of employment with the employer prior to accessing sick leave;
- to remove the provision requiring a doctor's note or certificate; and
- introduction of a new unpaid public health emergency leave that can be accessed:
- when the World Health Organization has determined that there is a public health emergency and the province's chief medical health officer has also issued an order that measures be taken to reduce the spread of a disease; or
- the province's chief medical health officer has independently issued an order that measures be taken provincially to reduce the spread of a disease where it is believed there is sufficient risk of harm to citizens of the province. The orders would also be made public to ensure everyone is aware of the direction.
The amendments to the Act would come into force retroactive to March 6, 2020. The bill amending the Act is before the legislature.
The government also announced that it is closing all pre K-12 schools effective March 20, 2020. Like other jurisdictions, employees and employers have been advised to reduce close contact between individuals and self-isolate in the event that symptoms associated with COVID-19 present.
Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon
In Nunavut, the Chief Public Health Officer recommended the temporary closure of all schools and daycares for a three-week period, effective March 17, 2020. The government has stated that affected provincial government employees will be accommodated and that they are encouraged to work flex hours or work from home.
In Yukon, the government announced a $4-million "support package" to deal with some of the economic fallout from COVID-19. Among other things, the funding will be used to compensate workers who need to stay home, but do not get paid for sick days, for up to 10 working days. This is intended to cover a 14-day isolation period where needed. The government said this fund will also be used for waiving and refunding some government fees, deferring workers' compensation premiums and reimbursing pre-paid premiums, and offering grants to businesses that have lost revenue from cancelled events. More information is available at this link.
In the Northwest Territories, the Chief Public Health Officer recommended the cancellation of all JK-12 classes until April 14, 2020, as well as the closure of all public libraries. The Health and Social Services Authority announced that sick notes will no longer be issued and requested employers to support public health efforts by allowing sick employees to stay home or employees returning from travel to isolate based on the advice from the Chief Public Health Officer of the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories government is also advising all individuals, organizations and businesses that they should cancel all mass gatherings which could reach over 50 people.
We will continue to provide updates on key changes impacting the workplace as those developments become known.