Covid-19: Employer Options

As an employer in British Columbia, you have legal obligations, rights, and options in the way you manage your workplace.  The public health crisis over Covid-19 is bringing some of these into light.  Below, we set out the options relevant to employers in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Remote work arrangements

If possible, you should consider having employees work from home.  Your employees will likely request this accommodation if they have children whose schools are closed.  Be proactive now: spend time anticipating how your employees can do their jobs while minimizing the risk of contagion.

If your employees cannot do their jobs from home, implement stricter measures to maintain “social distancing” in the workplace, and plan for how to deal with employees who self-isolate voluntarily.  Here your policy manual will provide guidance to your managers and employees.  If you do not have policies concerning remote work arrangements, contact us to get those in place as soon as possible.

Excluding affected employees

Some employees should be prevented from attending at work at all.  You can minimize financial disruption by:

  • Allowing them to work from home if possible;
  • Assist them to access short-term disability benefits, if your company offers these;
  • Allowing them to use paid vacation days;
  • Allowing them to access pay in lieu time, if your company has a time bank agreement in place;
  • Supporting them to access Employment Insurance by promptly providing an accurate Record of Employment and cooperating with correspondence from Service Canada.

Employees usually do not react well when they are made to stop working (and their pay is stopped accordingly).  To assuage their concerns, we recommend adopting the following sort of preface:

“As an employer, we’re responsible to provide a safe workplace for all our employees.  We are mindful of the outbreak of coronavirus globally and locally, as well as the directions of the provincial and federal health authorities.  In light of the circumstances, we have temporarily adopted a policy concerning employee illnesses …”

This is another area where the policy manual helps provide direction and uniformity.  Contact us to discuss a mandatory medical absence policy for your workplace.

Temporary layoffs

As discussed above, business exigencies may require you to temporarily lay off some or even all of your employees.  While your contract may allow you to do this, we strongly recommend that you contact your lawyer in advance of undertaking any employee layoff.  With any layoff there can be a risk of termination, and a severance obligation; in present circumstances, human rights liability is also a risk.

If your employment contracts do not specifically allow you to temporarily lay off your employees, any temporary layoff can be treated as a termination.  The layoff provisions of the Act do not automatically apply – you must contract for them.

Contracts and policies

Many business owners are taking this opportunity to implement employment contracts that protect them against forces beyond their control.  The importance of employment contracts, and the rights and options they confer on employers, cannot be overstated in situations such as the one created by the arrival of coronavirus in British Columbia.

Aside from employment contracts, which are generally important, now is a good time to implement policies concerning medical absences, mandatory exclusions from the workplace, remote work arrangements, and adjustments for increased childcare obligations.  We have a number of template policies that you can implement in your workplace right away.  Please contact us to learn more and get these in place.