As we all know, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (“ COVID-19 ”) has been classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. As of March 17, 2020, there are 424 cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 16 suspected cases. Government advice relating to this virus is constantly changing, including the news on March 18, 2020 of a new Emergency Care Benefit providing income support of up to 15 weeks, along with Longer Term support and employer wage subsidy of up to 10% of payroll to support businesses. Members of our team are available to assist you with any questions arising from the current unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID -19 global pandemic. Considerations will be different for employers depending on the location of their business, the type of business, contract terms with employee.
For your reference, some basic questions and answers to consider are included below.
What are the occupational health and safety duties of Employers that apply during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace pursuant to provincial occupational health and safety legislation and regulations. Employers should advise employees of proper sanitation including proper hand washing and encourage social distancing. Employers should have a clear policy in place regarding steps required to ensure health and safety to protect workers. If health and safety cannot be protected, then the office may need to be closed for a period of time. This will be the case where there is a confirmed cased in the workplace.
When will an employee be required to self-isolate?
Requirement for self isolation may arise where:
- the employee has come in direct contact with a person who has tested positive with COVID-19;
- the employee is showing symptoms of COVID-19;
- the employee has visited a high risk location (for example, a place with an outbreak of positive tests); or
- the employee has traveled internationally in the past 14 days. The employer will want to require that the employee follow current government recommendations which are to stay at home from work for 14 days. The employer should take steps to accommodate the employee, which may include facilitating the employee to work from home if possible.
Do employers need to pay employees if the office is shut down due to COVID-19?
This depends on the circumstances. Employers may be able to allow employees to work from home, and can continue to pay employees as usual. If employees are not able to perform their duties from home, employers will need to consider the terms of the contract of employment, along with statutory obligations.
Employers can require employees to take vacation in BC under employment standards legislation. Employers should make it clear if the employee’s time at home will be paid vacation time, paid or unpaid time, and issue a Record of Employment where necessary due to a break in earnings.
In extreme situations, if the employee is not able to work due to the closure of the worksite, then the contract may be temporarily frustrated. If employees are able to work from home, then the employment contract would likely not be frustrated.
Are there government benefits available?
Generally, if required to self isolate, an employee would be on sick leave, and may also be eligible for federal employment insurance (“EI”). Employees who are exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace may be eligible to apply for benefits through WorkSafeBC.
What are reliable resources for updates on COVID-19 in Canada?
The following links are available resources to receive updates on COVID-19 in Canada.
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Employment and Social Development Canada
- BC Center for Disease Control
- Ontario Ministry of Health
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
- Government of Manitoba
- Government of Saskatchewan
Have more questions?
For quick reference we’ve included our team contact information below. Please reach out to any one of us should you require assistance:
- Michael A. Watt, Partner
- Lanny N. Robinson, Partner
- Derek Frenette, Partner
- Janessa Mason, Associate
- Ephraim Fung, Associate
- Matthew Desmarais, Associate