More stringent restrictions that affect Alberta employers and their operations were announced by the Alberta Government on December 8, 2020.
The rationale provided was to make a concerted effort to “bend down the curve” of COVID-19. Premier Kenney stated that the provincial government has endeavoured throughout the pandemic to balance “lives and livelihoods”, but acknowledged the critical nature of the “public health imperative” in the midst of the exponential growth of cases in Alberta since the end of October. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, modified earlier restrictions that took effect on November 24th and 27th, 2020 and also added new mandatory ones. These new restrictions will apply province‑wide, and will last for at least 4 weeks, until January 12, 2021. Some measures take effect immediately and others come into effect on December 13, 2020 (enacted under CMOH Order 41‑2020, amending CMOH Order 38-2020).
For effective regulatory and litigation risk management, employers must carefully review and consider the new restrictions in order to determine the extent to which they may be required to further adjust business operations with reference to their business continuity plans. The new restrictions include the following:
Workplaces and Business & Service Restrictions – Effective December 13, 2020
The following restrictions have been announced (but public health orders not yet published):
- Working from home is mandatory unless the employer requires an employee’s physical presence for operational effectiveness, which has not been defined. We recommend that employers that continue to require employees to be at the worksite be able to show that they gave due consideration to the requirement and have a reasonable basis for the decision that physical presence is, or is not, required for operational effectiveness;
- Retail services must reduce their customer capacity to 15% of their fire code occupancy (excluding staff), or 5 customers at any one time, whichever is greater. This restriction includes grocery stores, pharmacies, markets, the common areas of shopping malls (food courts are open only for pick-up), among other retail businesses;
- All restaurants, bars, pubs, lounges, and cafés are closed for in-person service, but may continue take-out, curbside pick-up, and delivery services;
- All entertainment businesses (casinos, libraries, museums, theatres, etc.), indoor recreation facilities (gyms, recreation centres, indoor rinks, arenas, etc.) and personal and wellness services (esthetics, manicure, pedicure, hairstyling, massage therapy, etc.) must close, although outdoor recreation is allowed at this time;
- Regulated health services (physicians, dentists, chiropractors, etc.) and professional services (lawyers, accountants, mediators, etc.), can remain open for appointments (must be one-on-one for health services) as long as public health orders and sector-specific guidance are followed;
- Social services (protective or emergency services, shelters, not-for-profit community kitchens, etc.) following public health orders and sector-specific guidance can stay open for in-person services;
- Hotels, motels, hunting and fishing lodges can remain open but must not have in‑person dining (room service only), or allow access to spa, pool, or gym facilities;
- Performance activities are restricted as follows:
- all indoor or outdoor performances with audiences are prohibited;
- outdoor rehearsals are allowed with up to 10 people with physical distancing measures in place, and indoor practices or lessons are restricted to 2 people with physical distancing (but virtual lessons are strongly encouraged as an alternative); and
- physical education, band, and drama classes are allowed to continue where proper health protocols and physical distancing requirements are followed; and
- Group physical activities (team sports, fitness classes, and training sessions) are restricted as follows:
- outdoor activities must have no more than 10 people with at least 2 metres being kept between all members of different households;
- indoor activities, including one-on-one indoor training, are prohibited unless:
- the group is only same-household members; or
- the activity involves students at a school or post-secondary institution.
Mandatory Mask Mandate – Effective December 8, 2020
CMOH Order 41‑2020 sets out the following restrictions:
- Masks are now mandatory province-wide in all indoor public places, places of worship, and all indoor workplaces and facilities outside the home. Masks are not required, however, when certain exceptions apply, such as:
- when consuming food or drink;
- when engaging in physical exercise;
- when alone at a workstation (or in a personal workspace) and separated by at least 2 metres of distance from all other persons;
- when a worker’s safety, in accordance with a workplace hazard assessment, will be at risk if they wear a mask while working;
- when separated from every other person by a physical barrier that prevents droplet transmission; or
- when working at a farming or ranching operation (defined in CMOH Order 41‑2020), unless the person is interacting with a member of the public; and
- Subject to the above exceptions, the indoor workplace mandatory mask requirement applies to all employees, customers, visitors, delivery personnel, and contractors in any location where employees are present in-person and where masks pose no safety risk.
Gathering Restrictions – Effective December 8, 2020
As per CMOH Order 41‑2020, all private and public indoor and outdoor social gatherings are prohibited, with the following exceptions:
- People living alone, including single parents who live only with their children under 18 years old, may have up to 2 close contacts who must remain the same throughout the duration of the restriction. If one of the above close contacts does not live alone, visits cannot be held in their home;
- Co-parenting arrangements;
- Service visits from caregivers, childcare providers, housekeepers, tutors or educational instructors;
- Home construction, renovations, maintenance and repairs;
- Mutual support group meetings;
- Deliveries; and
- Responses to emergencies.
Further restrictions on gatherings include:
- Weddings and funerals are restricted to 10 people in total (not including staff/organizers not considered guests) regardless of whether they are held indoors or outdoors and must be held in a public place, and receptions are prohibited;
- Online or drive-in services are recommended, but faith services may continue at 15% of fire code occupancy for in-person attendance, as long as additional prescribed measures are met;
- In-person faith groups and other religious gatherings are permitted at places of worship where physical distancing and public health measures are followed, but must not occur within private homes; and
- Performers at faith services or gatherings must wear masks at all times, and perform only where it is a normal practice of worship, and not for entertainment purposes. Similarly, those speaking at faith services or gatherings may remove their mask to speak where 2 metres of physical distance is maintained, but must place their mask on again once finished speaking.
- All non-essential out-of-town travel is discouraged, but not yet restricted under any public health order;
- Individuals who belong to a household may return home during this time; and
- Individuals without an Alberta household, including out-of-town visitors, must not stay in other people’s homes through the duration of the restrictions.
We recommend that employers give very careful consideration of the true necessity of work travel before requiring, or allowing, employees to do so. Where employees do travel for work, they should be provided with written guidance on expectations for safe conditions and behaviours.
Premier Kenney also recognized the “devastating impact” the new restrictions would have on businesses. In response, the Alberta Government has implemented the following changes to the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant retroactive to March 2020:
- Lowered the threshold of revenue losses due to the pandemic to at least 30% (down from 40%); and
- Quadrupled grant amounts of up to $20,000 (as compared to $5,000 previously).
The Alberta Government estimates that this will expand the grant eligibility and potential access to more than 30,000 businesses across the province, result in $500 million in financial supports to small businesses, and cover the majority of businesses impacted by these further restrictions. We encourage eligible employers to review and apply for this financial assistance offered by the Alberta Government where they believe it would assist them to do so. Accounting professionals can assist with that assessment.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold across the Province, we urge all employers to carefully review their workplaces and their business continuity plans on an on-going basis given the evolving public health restrictions. Continued vigilance and adaptability are key to keeping employees safe and maintaining viable operations over what will undoubtedly be a difficult holiday season.
We will continue to update our clients with information as it becomes available. If you have any questions about this topic, or 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.