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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

COVID-19 Business Update: March 17th, 2020, 1pm 

The GNCC is committed to bringing timely information and updates on the business impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s vital updates: 

The Government of Ontario has declared a state of emergency. As part of this legislation, the following businesses must now close: 

  • All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery; 
  • All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and 
  • Concert venues. 

All public events must be canceled if more than 50 people will be in attendance. These emergency measures will be reassessed at the end of March, 2020.  

The government has proposed legislation which, if passed, would protect jobs for employees who cannot work because: 

  • They are under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19. 
  • They are acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. 
  • They are in isolation or quarantine. 
  • They are acting in accordance with public health information or direction. 
  • Their employer has directed them not to work. 
  • They need to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure. 

The legislation would also make it illegal for employers to require medical documentation for medical leaves of absence, retroactive to January 25th, 2020 (the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was identified in Ontario). 

Expect this legislation to pass and prepare your human resources policies accordingly. For businesses facing financial strain and/or with employees who are under-utilized or idle, there are several options, including: 

  • Voluntary and involuntary temporary layoffs. Up to 13 weeks in a 20-week period, few conditions are required; for leaves up to 35 weeks in a 52-week period, more conditions must be met. Leaves longer than these periods will be legally considered termination of employment. If you wish to top up employees’ incomes while they are on leave, review the requirements for supplemental unemployment benefits (SUB) and register your SUB at Service Canada to avoid clawbacks and deductions. 
  • Measures that can be voluntarily accepted by employees, including pay reduction, reduction of hours, or an unpaid leave of absence (furlough). 
  • Voluntary work-sharing agreements which can reduce the work-week of multiple employees by up to 60%. If accepted by Service Canada, employment insurance benefits will make up some or all of the employee’s lost income. Work-sharing agreements as a result of COVID-19 impacts may be extended up to a maximum of 76 weeks. More information on the requirements can be found here. 
  • Involuntary measures including reduction in pay or reduction in hours. Employers should seek legal advice before implementing any unilateral changes. 
  • Termination. While employees will be protected from termination owing to medical circumstances (see above), employers will continue to have the right to terminate employees as a result of economic circumstances. Be aware that common-law notice periods might be extended in the event of an economic downturn as the expectation of the time required to find new employment will be greater. The Government of Canada has announced that employment insurance benefits will be available immediately. 

The GNCC urges employers to seek legal advice before implementing any measures. Contact us if you need a referral. 

The Government of Canada is advising that: 

  • No foreign travel be undertaken 
  • Travelers returning to Canada self-isolate for 14 days, not including workers essential to the movement of goods and people 

Note that foreign locations include the United States. 

Tomorrow, the Government of Canada will bar foreign nationals from all countries excluding the United States from entering Canada. There will be some exceptions, but not for speakers, performers, seasonal agricultural workers, etc. Plan for the entry of foreign employees to be delayed. 

The BDC has extended financing options to help businesses with their cashflow during the crisis. The Government of Canada will announce more business support tomorrow.