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 18, 2020 that touch on workplace issues. These changes will undoubtedly affect many of your businesses.
Our overview of previous government announcements and other COVID-19 information is available here. For more information on temporary layoff and other options for your employees outside Quebec, please see our earlier workforce planning bulletin.
The Federal Government
The Government of Canada announced a new set of economic measures to support Canadian workers and businesses, as part of its COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.
These measures include two new emergency benefits to assist workers that do not qualify for Employment Insurance ("EI") or have access to paid sick leave:
1. Emergency Care Benefit – This benefit will provide up to $900, bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This benefit will provide income support to:
- Workers who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19, but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits;
- Workers who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits; and
- Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, regardless of whether they qualify for EI.
2. Emergency Support Benefit – This benefit will support employees who lose their job as a result of COVID-19, but who do not qualify for EI. It will be available for those who are self-employed and have to cease their own activities as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
Applications for both benefits will open in April, at a date to be determined.
The federal government also announced that to help businesses prevent layoffs, eligible small businesses will be provided with a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months, equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.
Details on these new measures, including eligibility requirements, can be found here.
Further, Canada and the United States will temporarily restrict all non-essential travel across the Canada-US border. Employees crossing the border to do "essential" work or for other "urgent reasons" will not be impacted. Prime Minister Trudeau clarified that supply chains including trucking will not be affected by this new measure. To date, limited guidance has been provided on what work may be "essential".
Late on March 17, 2020, the government announced and implemented a new Employment Standards (COVID-19 Leave) Regulation (the "Regulation"). The Regulation implements unpaid job-protected leave for workers affected by COVID-19. This is a significant change from the government's previous announcement late last week where Premier Kenny stated that Alberta would be introducing paid sick leave.
The Regulation is retroactive to March 5, 2020 and provides for the following:
- employees are entitled to unpaid leave for fourteen (14) consecutive days of leave if the employee is "under self‑isolation or self‑quarantine as a result of COVID-19, as may be recommended by the Chief Medical Officer";
- there is no minimum duration during which an employee has to be employed by an employer to take advantage of the new COVID-19 leave;
- an employee is not required to provide a medical certificate to qualify for COVID-19 leave;
- an employee under quarantine is not required to give any written notice or any notice to the employer of the date the employee intends to return to work;
- employees will still continue to be entitled to sixteen (16) weeks unpaid leave in a calendar year for long term illness or injury in accordance with the requirements of that leave; and
- the Minister may extend the duration of the COVID-19 leave upon the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer in the future.
The Regulations appears to make certain exceptions under the Long Term Illness or Injury Leave provided by the current Employment Standards Code. It is important to note that an employer cannot terminate or lay-off an employee who is on Long Term Injury or Illness Leave. Therefore any employer planning temporary layoffs under the Code, or who have already given notice of layoff may need to revaluate whether or not any employees who have been laid off (or are scheduled to be laid off) qualify for COVID-19 leave.
The Alberta Chief Medical Officer has recommended individuals self-isolate or self-quarantine in the following circumstances:
- if they are in contact with a confirmed case of COVID 19;
- if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19;
- if they have returned to Alberta from anywhere outside Canada on or after March 12, 2020; and
- If they returned to Alberta from Italy, Iran, the Hubei Province of China or the Grande Princess Cruise ship, before March 12, 2020.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced that the provincial legislature will sit on Monday, March 23, 2020. The government expects to review and pass legislation amending BC's Employment Standards Act on that date. Specifics of proposed amendments to the ESA were not announced. We anticipate that amendments will include unpaid leave provisions which will protect job security for workers who cannot work because of circumstances related to COVID-19.
There were no major employment-related announcements from the government on March 18, 2020 as of 5:00 p.m.EDT.
For past announcements, see our earlier bulletins here.
On March 18, 2020, the provincial government called on individuals to stay home and engage in proper social distancing practices in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. A specific site with COVID-19 guidance for businesses was also released, along with a frequently asked questions page that may be accessed here. Recommended strategies on the site include:
- actively encouraging sick employees to stay home;
- respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees (including posting public health guidance on handwashing in locations in the workplace visible to employees);
- performing routine environmental cleaning; and
- staying informed and planning for the future (such as finalizing business continuity plans and considering work-from-home programs using technology).
Newfoundland and Labrador
On March 18, 2020, the Minister of Health and Community Services declared a public health emergency under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act (the "Act").
In accordance with the declaration:
- gyms, bars, cinemas, arenas and performance spaces are required to close effective March 18, 2020;
- restaurants that are able to maintain social distancing can operate at 50% of their regular capacity;
- takeout and delivery services are permitted to continue;
- gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited; and
- all individuals returning from international travel (including from the United States) must self-isolate for 14 days.
Individuals and corporations who violate the orders made under the Act may be subject to penalties:
- For a first offence:
- individuals can be fined between $500 and $2,500, or subject to imprisonment for up to 6 months; and
- corporations can be fined between $5,000 and $50,000.
- For a subsequent offence:
- individuals can be fined between $500 and $5,000 or subject to imprisonment for up to 6 months; and
- corporations can be fined between $5,000 and $100,000.
Each day an individual or corporation is found to be in violation of an order constitutes a separate offence under the Act.
Officers, directors and agents of a corporation can be held personally liable for breach of an order under the Act and subject to the penalties applicable to individuals.
As previously reported, all public schools and day cares remain closed until April 3, 2020, group gatherings are limited to 50 people or fewer, and restaurants will be limited to providing take out and/or delivery food as of March 19, 2020. Further, all elective surgeries in the province have been indefinitely postponed.
The Halifax Regional Municipality has restricted public transit by only allowing passengers on transit if a seat is available (i.e. standing passengers are no longer permitted), and has been encouraging employees to work from home.
What businesses or services are open or closed in the province can be found here.
As of March 18, 2020, the province has not enacted or amended any employment-related legislation in response to COVID-19, and has not announced any plans to do so.
Prince Edward Island
The province has announced further mandatory closure of business for all hairdressers, nail salons, malls, fitness and gym facilities, and liquor and cannabis stores. The closures are to take place by March 19, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.
The province has included a special "For Business" COVID-19 website geared to answer questions for employers and self-employed individuals.
On March 18, 2020, the provincial Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer of Health recommended that licensed retirement homes only allow essential visitors—people visiting residents who are very ill or require end-of-life care—until further notice. Further information is available online here.
The Ontario Legislature has been recalled, and will sit on Thursday, March 19, 2020. It is possible that the legislation previously announced by the government, which may affect employment standards in the province, will be introduced.
On March 18, 2020, Premier François Legault addressed concerned workers still reporting to work by stating that they are needed and reminding them that it is important that the society continues to operate. He also reminded them of the precautionary rule of staying 1-2 metres away from their co-workers.
Premier François Legault commented on the situation of seasonal foreign workers in response to a question. He indicated that the federal government's objective is to allow foreign workers who already have a job secured in Canada to enter the country. There are exceptions, namely pertaining to agriculture. An agreement is currently being negotiated with the federal government.
On March 18, 2020, the government declared a provincial state of emergency, which gives the government broad powers to implement measures like the ability to limit travel to or from a community or region of the province, and directing that property or equipment be deployed to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government also made a number of new orders, including that:
- public gatherings larger than 50 people are prohibited;
- all restaurants, bars and event venues must limit their seating to 50 per cent of capacity or up to a maximum of fifty people, whichever is lesser. All must be able to ensure social distance of one to two metres between customers. Retail spaces including grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations are exempted from this policy, but must have processes to maintain a 1-2 metre separation;
- all gyms, fitness centres, casinos and bingo halls are ordered to close until further notice;
- any licensed restaurants and taverns in Saskatchewan will be permitted to sell alcohol as an off sale in accordance with regulations indefinitely; and
- all Government of Saskatchewan ministries, agencies and Crown corporations will implement a phased-in work from home policy effective Monday, March 23, 2020, applicable to employees deemed non-essential.
As previously mentioned, on March 17, 2020, the government introduced and passed amendments to the Saskatchewan Employment Act that have retroactive enforcement to March 6, 2020. As a result of the legislation, the Saskatchewan Employment Act has been amended:
- 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 for sick leave; and
- to include 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.
A copy of Bill 207 which makes these amendments is available online.
Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon
In the Yukon, the Chief Medical Officer of Health declared a public health emergency. The following new public health measures are being implemented:
- classes are suspended at all Yukon public schools until April 15, or until further notice;
- all public indoor recreational facilities are required to close until further notice;
- all three Yukon hospitals are closed to visitors, with limited exceptions; and
- libraries are closed until further notice.
In Nunavut, a public health emergency has also been declared. Effective March 20, 2020 and until further notice:
- restaurants will be take-out only, with no more than 10 people in a line-up at any time;
- all bars must close;
- taxis will be limited to one pick-up per fare; and
- food centres and soup kitchens across the territory will remain open for five (5) days to lessen impacts to food security. They will be provided with take-out containers to be able to prepare meals for take away.
In addition, Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer recommended anyone who is not in an essential service delivery position and has arrived in Nunavut since Sunday, March 15, 2020 to self-isolate immediately for fourteen (14) days. Family members and those living with people who are self-isolating, but did not travel themselves, are recommended to self-monitor, limit non-essential outings and practice strong social distancing. Finally, starting on March 20, 2020, government employees will transition to remote work as much as possible.
In the Northwest Territories, a public health emergency has also been declared, but specific measures are yet to be announced. The government also announced that the majority of government employees will be asked to work from home, starting on March 19, 2020.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.