Mandatory Mask Use Indoor Calgary Public Spaces and Alberta Schools to Re-open in the Fall

As Alberta continues to steadily reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Calgarians will be required to wear masks in all indoor public spaces under a new temporary bylaw. The Alberta government announced that K-12 schools in the province will resume in-class learning in the Fall.

Mandatory Face Mask Coverings in Calgary

As Alberta cautiously continues through phase 2 of its 3-stage Alberta Relaunch Strategy, the province has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases. In an effort to stem the spread of COVID‑19, on July 23, 2020, the City of Calgary issued a temporary bylaw (Bylaw Number 26M2020) requiring face coverings in all indoor public premises (e.g. malls, grocery stores, retail businesses) and in public vehicles (e.g. bus, LRT, taxi, Uber), effective August 1, 2020.

This decision comes as provincial COVID-19 cases continue to disproportionately affect Calgary, and follows similar mandates set in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal. The temporary bylaw aims to keep Calgarians safe and businesses operational to prevent further economic impact from the virus. Other Alberta towns and cities, including Edmonton, Banff, and several communities throughout Alberta, have passed similar bylaws, or have scheduled council meetings to consider similar requirements.

Calgary’s temporary bylaw signals new health and safety obligations for employers who have been rapidly adjusting their operations and protocols as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed. Accordingly, employers will need to carefully consider if, or which parts of, their business might be considered a “public premises” or “public vehicle” for the purpose of the bylaw, and what measures may be appropriate to take in order to comply.

For example, employers will be required to display signage provided by the City of Calgary in all public entryways, or in public vehicles, as a reminder of the temporary bylaw, but will not be expected to deny service to patrons without a face covering. Employers failing to comply with this bylaw may be fined $200. Those who fail to wear a face covering where required could be fined $50.  

The bylaw does not apply:

  • to any individual who:
    • is a child under 2 years of age;
    • has an underlying medical condition or disability that inhibits their ability to wear a face covering;
    • is unable to place, use, or remove a face covering safely without assistance;
    • is eating or drinking at public premises that offer food or beverage services;
    • is engaged in an athletic or fitness activity;
    • is a caregiver or accompanying a person with a disability where wearing a face covering would hinder the accommodation of a person’s disability; and
    • temporarily removes their face covering where doing so is necessary to provide or receive a service; and
  • where a person is separated from other people by an installed screen, shield or other barrier.

To ensure that all staff and business operations meet the requirements of the temporary bylaw, employers that operate a public premises, or that include the operation of public vehicles, should consider developing and implementing policies and procedures on:

  • mask usage where employees must interact directly with the public;
  • mask usage in publicly accessible spaces, such as shared washrooms, elevators or stairways, lobbies, and parkades;
  • whether the employer will provide face coverings to the public and/or staff;
  • a process for employees to follow to ensure physical distance when a member of the public does not have and/or refuses to wear a mask (which might include the addition of physical barriers like screens or shields between employees and the public ); and
  • a process to follow where an employee refuses to wear a mask in the required public spaces, is not exempted by the temporary bylaw, and/or lacks any relevant accommodation factor(s).

In addition to the above considerations, employers should also develop a process to address those employees who are unable to wear a mask because of an underlying health reason, or any other protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act, while complying with the temporary bylaw to the greatest extent possible.  Lastly, employers should also give careful consideration to whether or not they want to temporarily close their premises to the public, but continue to stay operational.  We are happy to discuss how this potentially can be achieved for your organization.

Back to School in the Province

On July 21, 2020, the Alberta government announced plans to reopen classrooms for in-class learning when students return to school in the Fall. Expected safety measures include:

  • frequent sanitization of all surfaces and availability of hand sanitizers;
  • grouping students into isolation cohorts, staggering class times and breaks, reorganizing classroom spaces, and restricting use of shared items to promote physical distancing;
  • requiring all students, staff, parents, and visitors to pass a daily self-screening questionnaire, and prohibiting sick students or staff from attending school; and
  • postponing school trips and other large gatherings until further notice.

Masks in Calgary schools are an issue that Mayor Nenshi said last night he would address by way of letter directly with the Province and school boards. 

Further safety protocols may also be implemented, as necessary, and informed by Alberta Health Services recommendations. The government has also indicated that parents with children who have underlying medical conditions or health risks should consult with the student’s school for alternative learning options where in-school attendance is not possible. Other provinces, like Ontario, are currently examining similar approaches for the Fall.

Planned school reopening may present significant staffing implications for employers, as well as potential accommodation requirements. Some employees who have children with pre-existing medical conditions or underlying health risks, may elect to continue educating their children from home, rather than returning their children to in-class learning. Employers continue to have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship, and will need to consider what accommodations can be made available to employees if the duty is triggered by the employee’s specific circumstances.

In addition, some employees may require leave or remote working accommodations where they or their child becomes ill with COVID-19 as a result of school reopening or otherwise. Such leave may be protected under the Employment Standards Code, particularly under the relatively new COVID-19 leave provisions, as well as the expansive job-protected leave categories relating to illness and injury (e.g. personal and family responsibility leave, critical illness of a child leave, compassionate care leave). We encourage employers to consider statutory requirements, along with their existing policies and procedures with respect to leaves of absences, in advance of school reopening this Fall.

We will continue to update our clients with information as it becomes available. If you have any questions about this topic, other COVID-19 related questions, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources

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