On March 17, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Province of Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health declared a public health emergency. On March 27, 2020, the Government of Alberta ordered the closure of all "non-essential" businesses. The government did not specify a date on which the closures would commence; it is assumed they took immediate effect. The date on which the closures are to end was also not specified.
The list of non-essential services that must be closed to the public is published on the Government of Alberta's website here. They include:
- retail businesses that offer only non-essential goods or services (these business may offer online shopping and curbside pick-up)
- public recreation facilities and private entertainment facilities
- restaurants, cafes and food courts (take-out, delivery and drive-thru is still allowed, and not-for-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens, religious kitchens and work camp dining halls are exempt although risk mitigation strategies must be followed
- bars and nightclubs
- personal service, cosmetic enhancement service and wellness studios
- non-essential health services (those that if interrupted would not endanger the life, health and safety of the individual)
Non-essential businesses are permitted to engage in online shopping and curbside pick-up.
The Government of Alberta also released a list of essential services that can continue to provide services at locations accessible to the public. The list is published on the government's website here.
Essential services in Alberta fall into the following categories, and under each category there is a detailed list of services: health medical and public health; public safety and security; food and shelter (restaurants may only provide delivery or takeout); energy and utilities; water; transportation; specified industrial; petroleum, natural gas and coal; certain construction projects and services (including those associated with the healthcare sector, critical provincial and municipal infrastructure, health and safety environmental rehabilitation projects, and critical energy infrastructure); agricultural and horticultural; retail (including food, pet food and supplies, household consumer products necessary to maintain safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences and businesses, liquor and cannabis retail outlets, motor vehicle, auto supply and repair, hardware stores, pharmaceutical businesses, office product supply businesses, stores that provide safety gear and Personal Protective Equipment, and businesses that supply and deliver remote or online ordering); financial services (including banks, credit unions, insurance brokerages, investment management, and the Alberta Securities Commission); information and telecommunications; public administration and government; and other essential services.
While businesses and services on the essential services list can continue to provide services at locations accessible to the public, they must have proper risk mitigation measures in place, such as sanitation stations and appropriate distancing between customers.
Businesses Not Deemed Essential Services But Still Permitted to Remain Open
A business in Alberta that is not listed as an essential service can continue to operate if it is not specifically prohibited from offering services in a location accessible to the public and it does not fall under previous business, workplace and facility closures. Such businesses are permitted to have more than 15 workers on site provided they follow all other public health orders and guidelines, including physical distancing and prohibiting people from coming to work sick.
These employers are required to:
- self-assess and find alternative ways to organize large group meetings;
- cancel workplace gatherings of 15 or more people in a single space (such as training events)
- employ mitigation strategies to limit risk
- continue business continuity planning to prepare critical operations for any potential interruption
Bottom Line for Employers
To analyze whether their businesses may remain open or must close, employers in Alberta are encouraged to carefully study the government's list of essential services, and its guidance regarding businesses not deemed essential but still permitted to be open. Employers that are unclear about where they stand are encouraged to seek independent legal advice, rather than risking a steep penalty or fine for violation of a public health order (a $1,000 penalty or, for more serious violations, fines of up to $100,000 for a first offence and up to $500,000 for a subsequent offence, which may be administered by the courts).
In addition, employers with non-essential businesses that may no longer remain open should keep in mind that they are permitted to engage in online shopping and curbside pick-up. Employers with essential businesses that are permitted to remain open must remember that they are not released from their obligation to take steps to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, nor are they released from their duty, under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act, to take every reasonably practicable precaution to ensure the health and safety and welfare of their workers and others at or in the vicinity of the work site.
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.