Alberta Public State of Emergency - November 24, 2020 (COVID-19 Update)

Alberta Public State of Emergency
Yesterday, November 24, 2020, the Alberta Government declared its second state of local public health emergency in Alberta in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the emergency declaration, the province also announced a large suite of new restrictions and measures aimed at reducing the transmission of the novel coronavirus.
The newly announced restrictions are likely to affect almost every Albertan: a temporary shift to online learning for grades 7-12, a ban on indoor social gatherings of any size, restricting outdoor social gatherings, weddings and funerals to 10 in-person attendees, three new categories of restrictions on businesses, mandatory masking in workplaces in Edmonton and Calgary and the province is requesting that individuals who can work from home do so. A full list of the restrictions and measures announced yesterday can be found here.
Effective Friday, November 27th, businesses (and some non-profit organizations) will broadly find themselves in one of the following three categories:
  • Closed for in-person services - this includes banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, concert venues, non-approved/licensed markets, community centres, children's play places, indoor playgrounds, and all levels of team and individual sport that have not been granted an exemption by application to the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
  • Open for in-person services, but with restrictions - this includes most retail businesses with capacity limited to 25% of their allowed occupancy set under the Alberta Fire Code. Restaurants, bars, pubs and lounges may continue to provide indoor dining, provided they follow a number of new restrictions, including a maximum of 6 people from the same immediate household (or one person living alone with a maximum of 2 non-household contacts) and no movement between tables. Some businesses and facilities (including casinos, indoor fitness and recreation centres, and public swimming pools) may remain open with additional restrictions.
  • Open by appointment only - this includes personal services (such as hair salons, esthetics, piercing and tattoo services), wellness services, professional services (such as lawyers, mediators, accountants and photographers), private one-on-one lessons, hotels, motels and hunting and fishing lodges. 
These restrictions will likely have an impact on many businesses across the province. Unfortunately, employers may once again find themselves needing to reduce their staffing levels in response to reduce capacity or hours. Neuman Thompson is ready to assist you with labour and employment-related questions.
Some early questions we have received from clients, centre around options they have when considering temporary staff reductions. We thought it might be helpful to remind employers of a number of tools available to them.

Canada Recovery Benefit

The Canada Recovery Benefit ("CRB") is a federal government program that essentially replaces CERB. Employees who are not working because of COVID or who have seen their average weekly earnings decrease by 50% or more from the previous year are able to apply every two weeks for a $1,000 payment. It is important to note that employees are only eligible for CRB if they are NOT eligible for EI Benefits.
If employees are seeing their hours and/or wages decreased by 50% from their previous years' earnings in any given two-week period, they may qualify for CRB benefits. More details about CRB can be found here.

Wage Subsidy

Another option that continues to be available to employers who have seen a significant reduction in their revenues is to apply for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy ("CEWS"). This program essentially provides employers with a refund on wages that have been previously paid to employees, and is designed to encourage employers to maintain an employment relationship with their employees whether or not the employees have been working. CEWS has recently been extended to June 2021. If employers have not already applied for previous CEWS periods, we would encourage them to discuss their eligibility to retroactively apply for those periods with their accounting department or an outside accounting firm. The deadline to apply for the previous periods is January 31, 2021.
Employers may also be eligible for CEWS on an ongoing basis. It is important to note that the eligibility rules and available subsidy amounts vary form period to period, so we would strongly recommend consulting with their accountants or an accounting firm to determine how to best utilize the program.
It might also be a helpful reminder that employers can receive CEWS benefits for employees who are not actively working, as long as they continue to be paid. In some instances, this may be more beneficial to employees than CRB/EI, depending on their rates of pay.
Depending on what an employer's revenue declines have been, different subsidy amounts apply. In all cases, the maximum subsidy amount per employee is $734 per week. This would be more beneficial for higher-wage employees who would get more than $500 in subsidy under the various CEWS formulas, as that is what CRB would pay. EI Regular Benefits pay similarly to CRB. More information about CEWS can be found here.

Temporary Lay-Off

Temporarily laying off employees is a third option available to employers. If employees are temporarily laid off, they would be typically eligible for EI Regular Benefits. If they do not meet the eligibility for EI (ie. if they have not worked the required hours), they may be eligible for the CRB.
It is important to note that for temporary layoffs that are related to COVID, they can be of a maximum 180 consecutive days (in the event the restrictions last longer than the 3 weeks announced on November 24th, or if operating needs do not necessitate their recall right away).
There are specific requirements to meet to implement temporary layoffs in compliance with Alberta Employment Standards legislation, and may also be other legal risks associated with temporarily laying off employees. We recommend that you seek legal advice before temporarily laying off employees.
We will continue to provide you with updated information as it becomes available. As always, do not hesitate to contact us if you have specific questions about your workplace.
The information in this update is intended as general information and should not be relied on as legal advice.