Alberta entered Stage 2 of the provincial government’s Open for Summer Plan on June 10, 2021. Of the many changes, employers will be quick to notice that the mandatory work from home order is lifted, but remote work is still recommended. Key for employers that are considering having their employees return to the workplace is continuing to implement health and safety measures that must still be in place to reasonably address the continuing COVID-19 hazard. If anything, they are just as important now, even with decreased infection rates, as employees may have more out of work opportunities.
Of note, employees returning to work are still required to wear masks at all times indoors except in work stations or where two-metre physical distancing or adequate physical barriers are in place. Additionally, any workplace with transmission of 3 or more cases of COVID-19 can be required to close for 10 days (work camps, along with essential and critical services are exempt). As such, employers should exercise caution before immediately recalling all employees back to the workplace at once; a rushed return could result in significant health and safety, operational and financial consequences. It can also have negative mental health and wellness implications if it is done too abruptly, having the potential to cause anxiety and trepidation as employees work to understand and embrace what the new “normal” may look like and could be. Effective and ongoing communication to team members is fundamentally important in reducing employee angst and/or anxiety.
In addition to lifting the work from home order, the following changes have been implemented across the province:
- The limit on outdoor social gatherings has been increased to a maximum of 20 people as long as social distancing measures are maintained.
- Indoor recreation, entertainment and other settings (recreation centres, arenas, casinos, cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries, libraries, etc.) are now open at 1/3 of their fire code occupancy capacity.
- Gyms and fitness studios are open for solo and drop-in activities, one-on-one training, and indoor fitness classes that are able to maintain 3 metres of distancing between participants.
- Sport and performance activities can resume indoors and outdoors.
- Youth day and overnight camps can resume with restrictions.
- Post-secondary campuses can return to in-person learning.
- Restaurants are permitted to have up to 6 people per table for indoor and outdoor dining. Different households can dine together but must stay 2 metres apart.
- Retail stores are permitted to have 1/3 of their fire code occupancy capacity in store.
- Funeral services and receptions are permitted to have a maximum of 20 people. Receptions are permitted outdoors only.
- Wedding ceremonies and receptions can have a maximum of 20 people. Receptions are permitted outdoors only.
- Outdoor public gatherings, such as concerts and festivals, can have up to a maximum of 150 people.
- Outdoor fixed seating facilities (grandstands) are permitted to have 1/3 of their seated capacity.
- All other restrictions remain in effect, including distancing and masking requirements
Alberta will be able to move into Stage 3 of its reopening plan two weeks after 70% of eligible Albertans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. The Alberta Government statistics state that 67.8% of Albertans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, giving those Albertans who have yet to receive a vaccine an incentive to do so. If Alberta’s vaccination rates maintain their current course, all restrictions could be lifted by late June or early July.
Employers that are having their employees return to the workplace during this time are recommended to keep health and safety measures front of mind, along with employee wellness. While the province is beginning to reopen, the workplace hazard posed by COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace should stay top of mind, and an integral part of the health and safety plans, safe work procedures and protocols in place to prevent workplace transmission. Investigating the circumstances that led to the transmission is an important step in understanding if corrective actions are needed in the workplace to further safeguard workers and others. The investigations need to happen in a privacy compliant (and respectful) manner, as does documenting the investigation findings and conclusion(s) as they may need to be relied upon in interactions with regulators including OHS and AHS to avoid orders and/or closures.
With a $3 million vaccination incentive lottery program now in place, Stage 3 will likely soon also be achieved. Stage 3 results in the lifting of all restrictions, including the ban on indoor social gatherings. However, hazard assessments should include the continued monitoring of cases in the community and the specific workplace as controls and corrective actions may still be required to keep workers safe. During Stage 3, isolation requirements for confirmed cases of COVID-19 will still be required and some protective measures will be in place for continuing care settings.
A list of the current public health measures in effect can be found on the Alberta Government webpage here.
If you have any questions about this topic, other COVID-19 related questions, or would like assistance with developing and/or reviewing pandemic plans, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s other COVID-19 resources.