March 17, 2020 COVID-19 Update

As the COVID-19 situation in Canada and around the world continues to develop rapidly, we are providing our fourth update to employers. Below is an update on important information announced since our last update on Monday, March 16, 2020. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. We remain available to you to answer any specific questions you may have.


Provincial States of Emergency


Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency, which empowers provincial authorities under the Public Health Act to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This means that effective immediately and until further notice, the Alberta government is implementing additional measures which will have an impact on many industries and employers across the province. Gatherings that have more than 50 people are to be cancelled. This includes worship gatherings and family events such as weddings. Albertans are prohibited from attending public recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities, including gyms, swimming pools, arenas, science centres, museums, art galleries, community centres, children's play centres, casinos, racing entertainment centres, bingo halls, and bars and nightclubs where minors are prohibited by law.
Sit down restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, food courts and other food-serving facilities are limited to either 50% of their allowed capacity or 50 people, whichever is smaller. Take-out, delivery and drive-through service is permitted, and licensed facilities will be permitted to deliver liquor. 
This order currently does not apply to not-for-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens and religious kitchens, though enhanced sanitation practices are expected and support will be in place for this practice. Also exempt from the order are grocery stores, shopping centres, health-care facilities, airports, the legislature and other essential services.
If you have any questions about how this order will impact your business, please reach out to us.
Ontario also declared a state of emergency this morning, and similar restrictions are in place. For more details about the Ontario declaration, please contact us.
Update to Financial Assistance Programs
The federal government has indicated that they will have significant announcements about financial assistance measures for employees and employers on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. We know that employers and employees alike are awaiting further information about possible relief measures. As we expect that the announcement will contain details about income supports, we encourage employers who are able to hold off on making decisions which might be impacted by such information until then. The CBC is reporting that the announcement tomorrow is expected to be worth "at least $25 billion", and that the House of Commons will be temporarily recalled to deal with legislation required to implement a number of changes.
We also understand that several provinces are waiting for the federal government announcement to announce their own provincial supports that would fill in gaps. The federal government and some provincial governments have also indicated they are considering business relief measures, including tax relief, stimulus spending and other programs to assist businesses through this difficult situation.
Alberta Court Closures
The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench is currently limiting hearing to emergency or urgent matters only. The most up-to-date information about operations at the Court of Queen's Bench can be found here.
The Provincial Court of Alberta is limiting all regular operations, effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020, until further notice. No members of the public will be permitted in court rooms unless they are required for a court matter. Legal counsel are permitted access to the Court for urgent court-related business. All Traffic Courts in Alberta will be closed effective March 17, 2020, until further notice. The most up-to-date information about what matters are proceeding can be found here.
The Alberta Court of Appeal is recommending that only those persons necessary to the proceedings attend before the Court, including counsel, litigants, and members of the media. Until further notice, correspondence to and from the Court of Appeal may be sent by email instead of fax. Social distancing guidelines are in effect, but the Court of Appeal is not expecting significant changes to their operations until March 23, 2020 (for single judge duty matters) and March 30, 2020 (for appeal sittings and applications before three judge panels). The most up-to-date information about operations at the Court of Appeal can be found here.
Effective March 17, 2020, the Labour Relations Board is adjourning all in-person hearings and resolution conferences scheduled up to and including April 17, 2020. The Board will continue to assess the need for further adjournments of hearings scheduled after April 17, 2020. Affected parties may make submissions to the Board about options for proceeding via teleconference or written submissions. The Board will continue to receive applications, responses and any other submissions in accordance with its Rules of Procedure but case processing may be delayed, including the conduct of votes. For the most up-to-date information, see here.
Temporary Layoffs
Related to the above, we have received a number of questions from employers regarding temporary layoffs as a response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. We also know some employers are considering this option so that employees may access EI benefits. The following information is general in nature and applicable to Alberta only, and we would encourage employers considering temporary lay-offs to contact us for further information.
In Alberta, an employer may temporarily layoff an employee by giving the employee a written layoff notice. The notice must be given one or two weeks in advance, depending on the length of the employees' service. If unforeseen circumstances prevent an employer from providing notice, the employer must provide the written layoff notice as soon as is practicable in the circumstances. While a global pandemic is certainly likely to be found an "unforeseen circumstance", the amount of notice that is reasonable is assessed on a case-by-case basis. 
The notice must state that the it is a temporary layoff notice, the date the layoff begins, and include a copy of sections 62, 63 and 64 of the Employment Standards Code. For employers considering temporary layoffs, we can assist in the drafting of a written layoff notice that is appropriate for your circumstances.
Under the current state of the law, and subject to limited exceptions, if an employee has been laid off for more than 60 days within a 120-day period, the employment is deemed to have been terminated and termination pay may be owing depending on the circumstances. Normally, it is important to recall an employee within that 60-day period to avoid terminating the employee. In the unique circumstances we all currently face, it is not clear if that will still be the case as it relates to COVID-19.
An employer may recall an employee by giving them a written recall notice stating that the employee is to return to work within 7 days of the recall notice being delivered to the employee. If they fail to return within 7 days, the employer may terminate the employment of that individual without being subject to termination pay requirements. We note that if the employee is dealing with impacts of COVID-19 at the time of the recall notice, the employee may be entitled to additional time to return to the workplace. For more information about temporary layoffs in Alberta or in other Canadian jurisdictions, you can contact one of our lawyers here.
Reducing Workloads
Employers may also wish to consider reducing workloads through the federal Work-Sharing Program. Further information, and information about COVID-19 specific measures, can be found here.
Canadian Blood Services Urgently Seeking Blood Donations
While not related to labour and employment law, we also felt it important in these times to share some information about how you can help those in your community. Canadian Blood Services has announced they are in need of blood donors amid a spike in cancellations of appointments to donate blood. It is safe to give blood during COVID-19, and critical for patients. For more information about becoming a blood donor, visit their website or call 1-888-236-6283.
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.