In late May, Dr. Bonnie Henry (BC’s Provincial Health Officer) gave the green light to services and businesses alike to begin reopening after COVID-19 closures and announced that BC is now entering into phase 2.
With this announcement, questions about employees who have been receiving CERB benefits have emerged. Let’s explore some of the questions that may arise.
Which businesses and services are reopening in phase 2?
The BC government has announced that with enhanced safety protocols, the following businesses can begin to re-open:
- Medical and health services:
- Dentistry, physiotherapy, registered massage therapy, and chiropractors
- Physical therapy, speech therapy, and similar services
- Retail sector
- Hair salons, barbers, and other personal service establishments
- In-person counselling
- Restaurants, cafes, and pubs (with sufficient distancing measures)
- Museums, art galleries, and libraries
- Office-based worksites
- Recreation and sports
- Parks, beaches, and outdoor spaces
- Child care facilities
Q&A for employees returning to work in BC
Q: “My workplace has reopened, but my employees don’t think it’s safe to return yet. Do they have to return to work?”
A: In short, yes. If your workplace is following government recommendations to ensure the safety of your employees and you have requested that they return to work, then they must come back.
Q: “What can happen if they refuse to return to work?”
A: If they refuse to return to work, they could lose their job and would no longer be eligible for CERB or any other government benefits. Under these circumstances, they would not be entitled to EI or severance as it would be considered a resignation.
Q: “They are afraid of contracting COVID-19, what can I do?”
A: As an employer, you are not obliged to accommodate your employee’s fears and anxiety surrounding COVID-19. If you work in an office environment, some feasible options you and your employees could explore are:
- Working from home
- Reduced office hours
- Alternate work days with coworkers
However, you have the right to determine the location/hours of your work and you have every right to refuse a work from home arrangement.
If they have a legitimate reason to believe their safety is being compromised in the workplace, then they can report it to your HR department or WorkSafeBC. Under these circumstances, you will need to consider refusal on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation.
Q: “If my employees feel that I am not following government guidelines and a complaint is filed, can they be penalized?”
A: No, this could result in a discriminatory action complaint against you as an employer.
You cannot take any of the following negative actions against an employee for lodging a complaint and they can contact their union rep, WorksafeBC or a lawyer if you do:
- Suspend or terminate
- Demote or deny a promotion
- Reduce wages or hours
- Take disciplinary action
Q: “What if they are immunocompromised?”
A: If they’re considered immunocompromised and feel vulnerable, they should be speaking to their health care providers. Their best course of action might be to issue a medical note to excuse them from working in an environment they deem unsafe. But you could still require them to work from home.
How to re-open your small business during COVID-19 so your employees feel safe returning to work
It is required that employers provide a safe working environment for their employees upon their arrival to work. You must establish occupational health and safety policies and procedures that align with WorksafeBC, in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
If you’re a business owner and want to bring your employees back into the workplace, then familiarize yourself with the Workplace COVID-19 Safety Plans Order.
We recommend that you clearly communicate new procedures with your staff and ensure the following take effect:
- Physical distancing (2m distance between people)
- Installing plexi-glass shields or other barriers if distancing is not possible
- Cleaning measures (disinfect surfaces regularly)
- Cloth masks (optional but encouraged if 2m distance is impossible to maintain)
- Regular handwashing
- Stay home if you’re sick
These are unprecedented circumstances for everyone involved, so be clear and transparent with your employees as you navigate re-opening. If you’re still unsure about re-opening or need additional advice, then please feel free to contact us.