March 16, 2020 COVID-19 Update

By Danica McLellan

As the COVID-19 situation in Canada and around the world continues to develop rapidly, we are providing our third update to employers. Below is an update on important information announced since our last update on Friday, March 13, 2020. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. We remain available to you to answer any specific questions you may have.


International Travel

The Canadian government is closing Canada's borders to all except Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, immediate family of Canadian citizens and US citizens. Starting Wednesday, the government is diverting most international flights to one of four airports: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Flights coming from the US and the Caribbean will still be permitted to land at other Canadian airports for now. These restrictions only apply to passenger travel and will not disrupt the movement of goods into the country.

All airlines will be prohibited from allowing passengers to board flights if they are sick. This includes Canadian citizens. If Canadians are stranded overseas, the government will be making financial assistance available to them to return to Canada or to cover their essential costs while stranded outside of the country.

If you are an employer with employees who have returned from travel outside of Canada, they must self-isolate for 14 days. As employers, you are entitled to insist that your employees not return to the workplace for 14 days after return from travel outside of Canada, whether or not they have symptoms.

Further, employers have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure the health and safety of the workplace, as far as is reasonably possible. This likely includes not allowing employees who are sick to return to the workplace, and not allowing employees who have recently returned from overseas travel to return to the workplace for 14 days.


Other Social Distancing Measures

The Prime Minister today also stated that "all Canadians, as much as possible, should stay home", irrespective of their travel history. We do not understand this to be an instruction that all Canadians must self-isolate in their homes. Of course, any Canadian who is at all ill, or required to self-isolate because of recent travel or because of contact with persons who have contracted COVID-19 should stay home. However, unless and until the authorities direct otherwise, businesses can continue to operate. This is of course subject to permitting employees who can work remotely to do so, and taking all the recommended precautions in terms of hygiene and social distancing.


Local States of Emergency in Alberta

At the time of writing, the City of Calgary and the City of Red Deer have announced local states of emergency. Other jurisdictions may do follow in the days and weeks to come. This declaration gives the cities access to special powers under the Emergency Management Act.

The City of Calgary is urging employers to allow employees to work from home. They are also asking businesses in Calgary to limit their occupancy to 50% of their capacity as determined by the fire department, or 250 people, whichever is lower. Additionally, a number of city-owned and operated facilities have been ordered to close. The City of Red Deer has closed city-operated recreation and culture facilities to the public. We may reasonably expect similar measures to be adopted in other areas of the province in the near future.


Sick Leave - Alberta

On Friday, March 13, 2020 the Alberta government announced changes to the Employment Standards Code Regulation prohibiting employers from requiring sick notes from employees, expanding job-protected leave from 5 to 14 days, and waiving the requirement that employees be employed for 90 days before being entitled to this job-protected leave. At the time, the government indicated that this leave would be paid, though did not provide specifics.

Unfortunately, the government has not yet been able to provide further information about how this leave would be "paid". The amended Regulation has not been published. We understand there may be discussions underway between various levels of government with respect to compensation for employees who need to access this leave. When the Regulation is published, we expect it may be retroactive to March 13, 2020. The Prime Minister today indicated that there would be a further announcement tomorrow involving financial measures, and we anticipate this will include expanded measures to provide employees/employers with financial assistance as a result of COVID-19.


Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits

In the interim, a separate phone line has been set up through Service Canada for queries related to EI sickness benefits relating to COVID-19. The phone number is 1-833-381-2725. The federal government has waived the one (1) week waiting period for Canadians requiring EI sickness benefits for COVID-19, including those who are in a 14-day isolation period. Canadians can apply right away. For employers who do not offer sick leave, or for employees who have exhausted sick leave entitlements, this is an option to provide some compensation.


School Closures and Related Accommodations

With the recent closures of schools and day cares, many employees will be immediately impacted in their ability to attend work due to child care issues.  "Family status" is a protected ground from discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act (the Canadian Human Rights Act for federally regulated employers) and these closures may trigger the employer's duty to accommodate employees facing these issues, depending on an individual employee's circumstances.

While such closures are currently described as "indefinite", in these early days we recommend that employers be as flexible as possible and explore different forms of accommodation with their employees to address this situation in the short term.  Examples of accommodation measures to consider are:

  • Supporting the employee to work remotely, with additional flexibility around employer expectations given the employee will also be caring for their child at home;
  • Adjusting shift schedules or allowing for flexible hours;
  • Reducing the employee's hours;
  • Allowing employees to take a leave and access banked time.

This is not an exhaustive list and employers are encouraged to be creative in reaching a solution that works for their operation and their employees' circumstances.

Employees also have a responsibility to consider solutions and alternatives. Being as flexible as possible in the short term will position employers well in meeting their accommodation obligations and provide the employees with time to secure alternative arrangements.  

An employer need only accommodate to the point of "undue hardship".  What constitutes undue hardship will change for employers as time unfolds and what may be possible in the short term may be unfeasible in the long term.  We recommend continued and open discussions with employees as the days unfold to assess the changing needs of both employer and employee.

We expect the government will provide further guidance around this specific issue which will likely unfold in the coming days.



In responding to the dynamic situation being presented by COVID-19, it is important that employers are open and honest with employees about what we know and what we don't know yet. Important changes are being announced on a frequent basis.

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 relied on as legal advice.