COVID-19: Labour, Employment & Human Rights Updates
The past few days have seen numerous announcements from governments across Canada.
We’ve summarized below the key announcements made during this past weekend relating to Federal changes and changes to the 3 provinces we support, namely Ontario, Alberta, and BC touching on issues that may impact the workplace and your business.
It is important to emphasize that these times represent uncharted waters and we’re all trying to provide the best answers we can in a rapidly evolving situation.
The Federal Government
- The Government of Canada has clarified a few elements of the US-Canada border travel restrictions, including:
- travel by healthy people who have to cross the border to go to work or for essential services, such as medical care, will continue; and
- exemptions to self-isolation for fourteen (14) days will be provided to healthy workers who provide essential services. This includes workers in the trade and transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods and people across the border, such as truck drivers and crew on any aircraft, train or marine vessel crossing the border. It also includes healthy people who have to cross the border to go to work, including health care providers and critical infrastructure workers.
- The Government of Canada also announced new measures to help bring Canadians home from abroad. All Canadians abroad are strongly encouraged to register with Global Affairs Canada so that they can be provided with information on how to return home, as soon as it becomes available.
- Finally, in his daily briefing on Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the House of Commons will be recalled on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm EDT in order to pass emergency legislation to implement Canada's COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.
The government released a new infectious disease emergency leave regulation identifying COVID-19, among others, as a designated infectious disease as of January 25, 2020. As a result, employees in Ontario are now retroactively entitled to a leave of absence under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 because of one or more of the following reasons related to COVID-19:
(i) the employee is under individual medical investigation, supervision or treatment related to COVID-19,
(ii) the employee is acting in accordance with an order under section 22 or 35 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act that relates to COVID-19,
(iii) the employee is in quarantine or isolation or is subject to a control measure (which may include, but is not limited to, self-isolation), and the quarantine, isolation or control measure was implemented as a result of information or directions related to COVID-19 issued to the public, in whole or in part, or to one or more individuals, by a public health official, a qualified health practitioner, Telehealth Ontario, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada, a municipal council or a board of health, whether through print, electronic, broadcast or other means,
(iv) the employee is under a direction given by his or her employer in response to a concern of the employer that the employee may expose other individuals in the workplace to COVID-19,
(v) the employee is providing care or support to a Specified Individual listed below because of a matter related to COVID-19 that concerns that individual, including, but not limited to, school or day care closures,
(vi) the employee is directly affected by travel restrictions related to COVID-19 and, under the circumstances, cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to Ontario,
(vii) or such other reasons as the government might later prescribe.
For the purposes of the leave entitlements, a "Specified Individual" for an employee is:
- The employee's spouse.
- A parent, step-parent or foster parent of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- A child who is under legal guardianship of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- A brother, step-brother, sister or step-sister of the employee.
- A grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- A brother-in-law, step-brother-in-law, sister-in-law or step-sister-in-law of the employee.
- A son-in-law or daughter-in-law of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- An uncle or aunt of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- A nephew or niece of the employee or the employee's spouse.
- The spouse of the employee's grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece.
- A person who considers the employee to be like a family member, provided the prescribed conditions, if any, are met.
- Any individual prescribed as a family member for the purposes of this section
On March 21, 2020, the government issued an order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that supersedes hospital collective agreements and permits hospitals to engage in redeployment, staffing, and scheduling as needed to deal with COVID-19. According to a government news release, "[under] this temporary order hospitals will be able to respond to, prevent and alleviate an outbreak of COVID-19 by carrying out measures such as:
- Redeploying staff within different locations in (or between) facilities of the hospital;
- Redeploying staff to work in COVID-19 assessment centres;
- Changing the assignment of work, including assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work;
- Changing the scheduling of work or shift assignments;
- Deferring or cancelling vacations, absences or other leaves, regardless of whether such vacations, absences or leaves are established by statute, regulation, agreement or otherwise;
- Employing extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors, including for the purpose of performing bargaining unit work;
- Using volunteers to perform work, including to perform bargaining work; and
- Providing appropriate training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan."
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.
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.
On March 20, 2020, the government announced a number of measures to provide short and long-term financial relief to the energy industry. Specifically the government committed to:
- funding the industry portion of the Alberta Energy Regulator levy for a period of six (6) months, which will provide $113 million in relief to the industry;
- extending the term of mineral agreements expiring in 2020 by one year, which will give industry additional time to raise capital and plan future activities; and
- extending a $100 million loan to the Orphan Well Association to bolster the Association's immediate reclamation efforts, well decommissioning efforts and environmental assessments, which is intended to create up to 500 direct and indirect jobs.
The government also announced a new advisory council on economic recovery to advise the Premier on issues surrounding Alberta's economic recovery from the double hit of COVID-19 and the collapse of oil prices. Members of the council will include former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, economist Jack Mintz, WestJet co-founder Clive Beddoe, ATCO CEO Nancy Southern, and ARC Financial Founder Mac Van Wielingen, among other key industry leaders in Alberta.
The government launched a COVID-19 virtual self-assessment online tool, which may be accessed here, to assist with the overflow of inquiries to Alberta Health Services.
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.
On March 21, 2020, the provincial health officer verbally ordered that all "personal service establishments," such as hair salons, nail salons, massage, tattoo parlours and spas, close immediately.
The provincial health officer published (PDF) a written order regarding premises where food and beverage is prepared and served. Pursuant to the order, food service establishments in British Columbia may only provide take and delivery services. Customers may remain on the premises for the time it takes to purchase and collect the order. Establishments must also ensure that there is sufficient space available to maintain a distance of 2 meters from one another. No more than 50 people may be situated on the premises at one time.
Holders of "liquor primary" business licenses which do not serve meals (i.e. serve appetizers and snacks only) must close, with some exceptions such as retail licensees (see Table 1 of the written order(PDF)).
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.