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Lock Down! Tips for Employers + Businesses Facing the Inevitable

The advice from Canadian public health officials is trending in one direction: increasing self-isolation. Not less.

Calgary and Red Deer announced states of emergency earlier this week. Today, Ontario and Alberta followed suit. All levels of government have powers to impose a full lock down.

Canadians were warned yesterday when the Prime Minister described self-isolation and staying at home as “an important step to protect the community and each other. We all have to do it.” A full lock down, such as those ongoing in China’s Hubei province, Italy and Spain seems inevitable.

The Federal government is expected to add Canada to the running list of countries subject to mass quarantines.  The Emergencies Act allows for a declaration of a “public welfare emergency” caused by “real or imminent... disease in human beings” and “that results or may result in a danger to life or property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources, so serious as to be a national emergency”.  Practically, this will allow the federal government to implement even more sweeping limits on travel/movement of people and essential services/goods.

Rather than reacting to daily announcements, prudent employers and businesses are preparing for mass quarantine (lock down). Situations and advice are often fact-specific, but all employers (and contractors) must comply with human rights and occupational health and safety laws and most non-union employers must allow follow employment standard laws, which are in flux. At minimum, we recommend:

  • Working from home: Prioritize an immediate transition of all non-essential workers to ensure the largest
    possible number of workers are directed to work from home. Create corresponding guidelines or invoke existing pandemic or other policies for working remotely and ensuring worker access and accountability.

  • Essential workers: In a lock down, essential workers are those providing essential services (e.g. police, fire, hospital workers). Under mass quarantine, organizations must have a plan to transition even their essential staff to work remotely, to the extent possible, and to ensure the health and safety of those who cannot be transitioned.

  • Layoffs: Governments are implementing changes to employment standard and other laws, including around layoffs and group termination. Take care to comply with notice provisions and termination pay requirements if your business must let employees go.

  • Childcare: All employers have a duty to accommodate workers, to the point of undue hardship, and not discriminate on the basis of a recognized ground such as family or economic status. This includes workers affected by the closure of schools and daycares.

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