Options for Employers & Employees Grappling with COVID-19

Posted:  Mar 27, 2020
As uncertainty grows around whether the BC government will close all “non-essential” businesses, a move recently implemented in Ontario, employers and employees are scrambling to make sense of what these measures will mean for them. 

On March 26, 2020, BC’s Public Safety Minister, Mike Farnworth, released a list of essential services Thursday as he vowed to use his emergency powers to keep "communities safe, goods moving and essential service workers supported" as the province attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

We breakdown what that means for you as a business owner: 

If you are a "non-essential business"

1. An order to close down does NOT mean an entire shutdown of your business’s operations. It just means that clients or the public cannot come in to your place of business. If and where possible, employees can keep working from home, and the provision of work or services can continue by phone, online means, or by mail/delivery. 

2. If your business cannot be moved to remote, and you have to consider layoffs, review your employment contract for any clause on layoffs. If there are no clauses, review our article on layoffs and contact one of our employment lawyers for how you can safely proceed as an employee or employer. 

If you are deemed an "essential business"

1. You have a responsibility to ensure your workers are kept healthy and safe at the workplace. This means creating a COVID-19 response plan to minimize staff’s exposure and providing with the tools, equipment, and supplies necessary to carry out their functions. This includes items such as gloves, additional cleaning supplies, access to hand-washing stations or sanitizers, and masks if necessary. Failure to do so can lead to legal consequences and employee shortage. Your employees know best what is needed to protect them – they’re on the frontlines all day. Listen to them and do your best to include their suggestions in your response plan. 

2. Employees have the right to refuse unsafe work process if they have “reasonable cause to believe that that the work creates an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person.”  Ambiguity around the spread of COVID-19, growing anxiety, and lack of protective equipment or safety protocols could be viewed as reasonable cause. Should an employee believe their work is unsafe, they have an obligation to report this first to their employer, prior to refusing work. Employers will need to be more flexible when accommodating the safety concerns of their employees. 

3. To protect employees and minimize the risks of work refusals, take preventive steps to protect yourself, your staff, and your business. If you run a grocery store, consider blocking off the aisle while an employee restocks the shelf or only accepting credit/debit for payment. If you run a pharmacy, ask patients to phone ahead so you can limit the amount of time they spend waiting for a pick-up. If you run a gas station, have a glove policy for staff handling payments, and consider assisting customers through the access window only. For all businesses, make sure your employees have access to hand-washing stations or hand sanitizer.   

Regardless of whatever type of business you run, the most integral step you can take right now is to take action now. The pandemic is shaking up the way we do business and forcing us to rethink aspects that were previously taken for granted. 

It is important to keep in mind that everyone is being impacted in some way or another by the pandemic. The steps you take today could go a long way in keeping your employees healthy and secure, and your business afloat. 

With new orders being issued daily, knowing what you need to do to keep yourself legally protected can be tough to figure out. You should consult our employment lawyer to determine the best course of action for you and your particular situation. 

Call us today to schedule a consult with an employment lawyer: 250-248-8220


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