Alberta Announces Additional Public Health Restrictions - December 9, 2020 (COVID-19 Update)

On December 8, 2020, the Alberta Government announced a broad range of new public health measures in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the measures come into effect immediately, while others are effective at 12:01 am on Sunday, December 13, 2020.
Effective Immediately
Subject to very limited exceptions for weddings or funerals, all indoor and outdoor social gatherings of any size are now prohibited. Close contacts continue to be limited to household members only, except where an individual lives alone. They continue to be allowed up to two close contacts for in-person visiting.
There is now a mandatory mask mandate which extends province-wide. Masking is now mandatory in public spaces across the Province. This includes locations where a business or entity operates, and is applicable to employees, visitors and the general public. This also applies to all indoor workplaces and facilities outside of the home.
There are certain exceptions that continue to apply regarding masking in the workplace. For example, employees are not required to mask where they are alone in a workstation and separated by at least 2 meters distance from all other persons, or when they are separated from every other person by a physical barrier that prevents droplet transmission.
Effective 12:01 am, December 13, 2020
At the end of November, the province imposed new capacity limits on most retail operations in the Province. The capacity had been set at 25% of the fire code occupancy. Effective Sunday, that capacity has been reduced to 15% of fire code occupancy, or a minimum of 5 customers.
The Province has also imposed a 15% occupancy limit on shopping malls. The Province will be providing additional guidelines for shopping malls shortly. Malls will be required to close food court dining spaces, though food court kiosks may remain open for take-out service only.
In that same vein, restaurants, pubs, lounges, and cafes will be closed for in-person dining. They may remain open for take-out and delivery.
A number of businesses are also required to close completely. This includes casinos, gaming entertainment centres, raceways, bowling alleys, pool halls, legions, privacy clubs, recreational facilities (including fitness centres, pools, spas, gyms, studios, camps, and indoor rinks), libraries, museums, galleries, amusement and water parks, and personal and wellness services (including hair salons, nail salons, massage, tattoos and piercings).
Health services, social or protective services, shelters, emergency services, childcare, and not-for-profit community kitchens will be permitted to remain open to provide in-person services. There are no new changes for students in schools. Professional services (lawyers, mediators, accountants, photographers) may remain open by appointment only. Finally, in-home services from caregivers, health or childcare providers, as well as home maintenance and repairs my continue.
Mandatory Work from Home Order
Also effective December 13, 2020, it is mandatory to work from home unless the employer requires a "physical presence for operational effectiveness". For many businesses not affected by mandated closures, this new requirement will likely have the greatest impact of all the measures announced yesterday. There is no public health order regarding this new requirement available at this time for review, but it is expected that employers will have some discretion in determining when they require a physical presence for operational effectiveness, albeit subject to some direction from the Province.
It is likely that notwithstanding the discretion given to employers, many may be required to introduce work from home arrangements, or expand existing programs. Employers should use this week to develop plans with respect to work from home arrangements, including plans that address many of the employment-related challenges posed by these arrangements.
Additionally, where employers believe that they will require employees to remain in the workplace, they should ensure that they continue to take all required precautions with respect to their continued operations. All operations must continue to comply with employers' obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and employer policies should be reviewed frequently to ensure that they remain compliant with the existing rules. More information about OHS obligations can be found here.
Employers with questions about any of the above as they apply to their workplaces should contact a labour and employment lawyer. Neuman Thompson has been advising many clients on these and related issues in recent months and is ready to assist your organization.
Alberta Small and Medium Business Relaunch Grant
Yesterday, the Province also announced enhancements to its existing grant for small and medium businesses. The maximum total amount is increasing from $5,000 to $20,000 (over two payments), and the eligibility threshold is decreasing from a 40% revenue loss to a 30% revenue loss. This new threshold will be available to impacted businesses retroactive to March. More information on the program expansion will be found here.
Questions about Business Closures?
Many employers in Alberta are now faced with the difficult task of once again shuttering their operations and informing employees of what they can expect over the coming month. There are numerous options available to employers when considering how to structure the closures from an employment perspective. Those options are subject to legislation such as the Employment Standards Code, and the possibility of contractual limitations, including restrictions under an existing collective agreement.
The manner in which an employer decides to treat its employees and their employment status may impact what federal and provincial supports are available to the employees. Employment status is a part of identifying whether an employee is entitled to EI and the Canada Recovery Benefits. From the employers' perspective, it will impact the potential for enhanced benefits from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Additionally, employers need to be cautious as certain termination-related liabilities may arise if the decision is made to layoff employees.
We highly recommend that you seek legal advice from a labour and employment lawyer to ensure you are making the best decisions for your operation and your employees through this extraordinarily difficult upcoming holiday season.
As always, Neuman Thompson stands ready to provide assistance and guidance to employers on a wide range of employment-related issues.
The information in this update is intended as general information and should not be relied on as legal advice.