Why Have a Playbook?

As provincial governments move towards reopening their economies and taking steps to return to normal, employers must balance a range of important – and, at times, conflicting – considerations.

Some of the key questions may seem obvious:

  • Are we allowed to reopen and if so, when, and with what restrictions?
  • What steps are required to keep employees and all other individuals who come into or onto our premises safe?
  • How do we get our employees back to work, and what if they don’t want to return at this time?
  • How will reopening impact the availability of government support programs for us and our employees?

Over the coming days, through a series of client alerts, we will explore these questions and more, providing detailed and practical guidance that employers can draw upon and adapt for their specific workplaces. The Canadian Employers’ Reopening Playbook will break down common employment-related issues employers should consider when:

  1. Planning the return to work process;
  2. Implementing the return to work process; and
  3. Operating in a changed environment.

What Will Be Covered?

Relevant topics will include:

  • How to conduct workplace risk assessments to determine what changes need to be made in your workplace;
  • Recommended measures that employers can implement to reduce exposure and health risks;
  • Approaches to phased re-openings, including considerations when deciding how, when, and in what order to recall employees, contract personnel, and others;
  • Approaches to employees who wish to return to work but who may be in vulnerable populations, including employees with underlying medical conditions or over the age of 60;
  • What to do if employees are reluctant to return to work, engage in work refusals, or make accommodation requests;
  • How to implement new policies and procedures in unionized and non-unionized workplaces and the role of the Union, the Joint Health and Safety Committee, or Health and Safety Representative; and
  • Proactive steps that employers can take in anticipation of subsequent waves of closures and re-openings, including changes to employment agreements, contracts, pandemic policies, employee compensation or benefit plans, and work-sharing arrangements.

Where Are We Now?

Before exploring these issues, it is worth taking stock of the current situation and the varied approaches that governments have taken to their reopening strategies. On April 28, 2020, the Prime Minister and provincial and territorial premiers released a joint statement on restarting the economy. While the statement states that each jurisdiction “will take different steps at different times”, it identified specific criteria and measures as being core to the Canadian strategy:

  • Control of COVID-19 transmission, so as to avoid overwhelming the health care system;
  • Public health capacity to test, trace, isolate, and control the spread of COVID-19;
  • Health care capacity to support the needs of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19;
  • Support for vulnerable groups, communities, and “key populations”;
  • Support and monitoring of workplace protocols to protect employees;
  • Coordinated efforts to ease and manage restrictions on non-essential travel; and
  • Support for communities attempting to manage local disease activity.

The ministers also committed to scientific and evidence-based decision-making, ongoing coordination and collaboration between jurisdictions, continued accountability, transparency, flexibility, and proportionality.

As contemplated by the joint statement, each provincial government has taken their own approach to reopening. Given the nuances of these provincial plans, it is important for employers – particularly those who operate across Canada – to understand the specific guidelines, rules, and timelines that apply to their operations.

While it is beyond the scope of this alert to set out all of the applicable guidelines and rules, a sample of provincial timelines illustrates the challenges that may be faced by Canadian employers with cross-country operations.

Alberta, for example, took “early actions” as early as May 1st, with the first stage of reopening beginning on May 14th:

ALBERTA REOPENING TIMELINE

Early Actions

(as early as May 1)

Stage 1

(as early as May 14)

Stage 2

(TBD)

 

Stage 3

(TBD)

 

May 1: Access to boat launches in certain parks and vehicle access to parking lots and staging areas on public land and parks

May 2: Golf courses, with restrictions including keeping clubhouses and pro shops closed

May 4: Scheduled, non-urgent surgeries, as well as certain regulated health-care professionals

May 14: Alberta Parks’ online campground reservation system, for booking at select campgrounds starting on June 1

Post-secondary institutions may deliver programs online, in-person, or through blended means

Retail businesses such as clothing, furniture, and bookstores

Some personal services, such as hairstyling and barber shops

Museums and art galleries

More scheduled surgeries and dental procedures

Cafés, restaurants (minors allowed in liquor-licensed establishments) with no bar service, at 50% seating capacity

Some additional outdoor recreation

Daycares with limits on occupancy

Summer camps with limits on occupancy

Libraries

More scheduled surgeries, including backlog elimination

Personal services such as artificial tanning, esthetics, cosmetic skin and body treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, facial treatments, massage, and reflexology

Restaurants, cafés, lounges and bars continuing to operate at reduced capacity

Some larger gatherings (number of people to be determined) in some situations

Movie theatres and theatres with restrictions

Potential Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools with restrictions

All businesses and services, with limited restrictions

Larger gatherings (number of people to be determined)

Arts and culture festivals, concerts and major sporting events with enhanced protection controls

Nightclubs, gyms, pools, recreation centres, and arenas with enhanced protection controls

Industry conferences with restrictions

(Source: https://www.alberta.ca/external/covid19-alberta-relaunch-strategy.pdf)

British Columbia, which did not impose the same lockdown measures as other provinces, moved forward with Stage 2 on May 19, with further reopenings expected between June and September:

BRITISH COLUMBIA REOPENING TIMELINE

 

Stage 1

(the “status quo” pre-May 19)

 

Stage 2

(as early as May 19)

Stage 3

(June – September)

 

Stage 4

(TBD)

 

Essential health care and health services

Non-health essential services providers

Law enforcement, public safety, first responders, and emergency response personnel

Vulnerable population services providers

Critical infrastructure

Food and agriculture service providers

Transportation

Industry and manufacturing

Sanitation

Communications and information technology

Financial institutions

(With restrictions)

Scheduled elective surgeries and medically-related services

Retail sector

Personal service establishments, including hair salons and barbers

In-person counselling

Restaurants, cafés, and pubs with sufficient distancing measures

Museums, art galleries, and libraries

Office-based worksites

Recreation/sports

Parks, beaches, and outdoor spaces

Childcare services

(With restrictions)

June: Hotels and resorts, some parks (including overnight camping), and partial return of Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools

June/July: Film industry, beginning with domestic productions

July: Select entertainment, such as movies and symphony

September: Post-secondary education (mix of online and in-person delivery) and full return of Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools

(Conditional on wide vaccination, community immunity or broad successful treatments)

Large gatherings, such as conventions, live audience professional sports, and concerts

International tourism

(Source: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/gdx/bcs_restart_plan_web.pdf)

Ontario, which has been hit hard by COVID-19 and required the closure of all non-essential businesses, originally announced a reopening plan without any firm timelines. In subsequent weeks, the government allowed certain businesses to reopen on short notice and announced, on May 14, 2020, that the province would be entering Stage 1 in the coming days:

ONTARIO REOPENING TIMELINE
Early Actions

Stage 1

(mid-May)

Stage 2

(TBD)

 

Stage 3

(TBD)

 

May 6: The government announced it would expand “essential construction” to allow below-grade multi-unit residential construction projects to begin and existing above-grade projects to continue

May 7: Hospitals to begin planning for the gradual resumption of scheduled surgeries and procedures, with actual timelines varying between hospitals, conditional on approval by regional oversight bodies

May 8: Professional sports training facilities with established health and safety protocols

May 8: Garden centres and nurseries, under the same guidelines as grocery stores and pharmacies

May 9: Hardware stores and safety supply stores

May 11: Retail stores with street entrances, offering curbside pickup and delivery, as well as provincial parks and conservation reserves with access restricted to walking, hiking, biking, and birdwatching

Select workplaces that can meet current public health guidelines

“Essential gatherings” of a limited number of people

Some outdoor spaces

Continued protections for vulnerable populations

Specifically:

May 16: Golf courses with restricted access to clubhouses and restaurants, marinas, boat clubs, public boat launches, private parks and campgrounds, and board animal businesses (i.e., stables)

May 19: Remaining construction sites, retail services with separate street-front entrances, vehicle dealerships and retailers, certain media industries, libraries (pick-up or delivery only), religious services (drive-in only), certain recreational activities/sports for individuals or single competitors, certain professional services related to research and experimental development (physical, engineering, and life sciences), emissions inspection facilities, animal services including pet groomers and veterinary services, indoor and outdoor household services, maintenance/repair and property management services, and certain health and medical services including in-person counselling and scheduled surgeries

More workplaces with significant mitigation plans

More public spaces

Some larger public gatherings

Continued protections for vulnerable populations

All workplaces opened “responsibly”

Relaxed restrictions on public gatherings

Continued protections for vulnerable populations

(Source: https://www.ontario.ca/page/reopening-ontario-after-covid-19)

As a final example, Quebec has taken a region-specific approach to reopening its non-essential businesses, in recognition of the higher volume of cases in the Montreal and Joliette areas:

QUEBEC REOPENING TIMELINE

Stage 1

(May 4)

Stage 2

(May 11)

Stage 3

(May 25 / June 1)

 

Stage 4

(TBD)

 

Retail businesses outside of the Montreal area, with direct exterior access

Businesses outside the Montreal area providing goods or services required for supplying retail businesses

Non-essential mining and manufacturing, with strict limits on the number of employees (a maximum of 50 plus, if the regular number of employees is greater than 50, and extra 50% of the excess)

Non-essential construction businesses

Providers of goods and services to the mining, manufacturing, and construction sectors

Real estate brokers, land surveyors, inspectors and building appraisers, and chartered appraisers

School boards and private educational institutions, if required to provide educational support services

Preschools, elementary schools, and childcare services outside of the Montreal and Joliette areas

May 25: Retail businesses in the Montreal area, with direct exterior access

Businesses in the supply chains of retail stores in the Montreal area

Manufacturing companies throughout Quebec, with no restrictions on the number of employees

June 1: Childcare services in the Montreal and Joliette areas

Businesses outside the Montreal and Joliette areas providing private health care and body and beauty care services (including all dental care, businesses in the therapeutic care sector, pet grooming, and businesses in the personal care and beauty sector)

Businesses in the Montreal and Joliette areas providing dental care, therapeutic care, or pet grooming

Preschools and elementary schools in the Montreal and Joliette areas will remain closed until at least late August

Secondary schools will remain closed until at least the end of August

Further reopenings will be announced in subsequent weeks

(Source: https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/2019-coronavirus/gradual-resumption-activities-covid19-related-pause/#c57361)

What’s Next?

As provinces begin reopening, employers must plan and prepare for employees to return to the workplace. Having a well-developed playbook will allow companies to safely and successfully restart their operations and adapt, not only to evolving government guidance and requirements, but also to an unprecedented health crisis that is likely to have far-reaching effects on our economy and communities. Through The Canadian Employers’ Reopening Playbook, we look forward to shedding some light on next steps and best practices as you navigate the “new normal.”