Important changes to the suspension of all “non-essential” activities ordered by the Quebec government

March 27, 2020 | Gary S. Rosen, Audrey Boiteau

On March 23, 2020, the Government of Quebec announced that all Quebec businesses that provide services and carry out “non-essential” activities will be required to suspend their activities from March 25, 2020, at 00:01 a.m. until April 13, 2020.

Following this announcement, the Government of Quebec made available through its website a list of services it considers “essential”. As expected, this last list was the subject of several comments and interventions from various stakeholders in the field, namely certain government agencies, professional orders, certain Quebec and Canadian businesses, and many others.

Following these various comments and interventions, the government order as well as the list, which were posted online on March 23, 2020, were the subject of numerous clarifications and significant amendments on March 24th.

Reducing Activities and Services Rather Than Suspending Them Altogether

The most significant change that the government has adopted provides for a minimization of “non-priority” services and activities, rather than a mandatory suspension of “non-essential” activities and services.

Indeed, the administrative version of Decree No. 223-2020 of March 24, 2020 (hereinafter the “Decree”) provides as follows:

THAT, as of 25 March 2020, all activity carried on in work environments be suspended, except

(1) in work environments providing the priority services listed in the Schedule;

(2) as regards the minimum activity needed to ensure the future resumption of the activities of enterprises providing non-priority services, excluding commercial enterprises;

In light of this major clarification, a business whose activities are not considered a “priority”, as defined in the Decree, may continue operations that are minimally required in order to ensure that its customers’ orders are met when it can resume its activities. Businesses must therefore, at the very least, carry out a reassessment of their workforce in order to be subject to the application of the Decree.

Of course, the expression “minimum activity needed to ensure the future resumption of activities” will be subject to several interpretations in the coming days by the authorities.

“Priority” Services and Activities

In addition, the amended Decree does not use the term “essential” to qualify the activities that are not suspended, but rather the qualification of “priority”. The effect of this change is to create a strong differentiation, since the current notion of “essential services” is much more restrictive.

Remote Work and E-Commerce

Moreover, the amended Decree specifies, as Premier François Legault has already mentioned in his various press briefings, that remote work in one’s private residence or its equivalent, as well as online or other forms of e-commerce are not affected by this order to reduce “non-priority” activities.

The List of “Priority” Services and Activities

Finally, the list of maintained “priority” services has undergone several major changes to reflect the various comments and interventions of the last two days. Indeed, the Government of Quebec has added and/or clarified the definition of the listed services and activities. You will find below a list of certain additions and/or modifications:

Priority Health Services and Social Services:

  1. Private health consulting room or office, including dentists and optometrists (for emergency services only);
  2. Private seniors’ residences;
  3. Individuals, enterprises and organizations providing services to the elderly, to the disabled and to the vulnerable, in particular as part of the direct allocation—service employment paycheque measure;
  4. Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail;
  5. Wholesalers and manufacturers of medication accredited by the Minister of Health and Social Services;
  6. Medical and pharmaceutical laboratories and research centres;
  7. Enterprises manufacturing vaccines or by-products to produce vaccines;
  8. Suppliers, distributors and co-contractors in the health and social services network;
  9. Independent placement agencies in the field of health services and social services;

Government Services and Other Priority Activities:

  1. Waste collection and residual materials management;
  2. Courts of justice and administrative tribunals, for matters they deem urgent;
  3. Legal services (lawyers, notaries, bailiffs, translators and other workers);
  4. Professional orders – public protection component;
  5. Priority union activities;

Priority Manufacturing Activities:

  1. Production of inputs necessary for priority sectors;
  2. Pulp and paper sector;

Priority Commercial Enterprises:

  1. Stores not in a mall (offering grocery, pharmacy or hardware products);
  2. Furniture and household appliances (online or telephone sales only);
  3. Restaurants (drive-through, take-out and delivery only);
  4. Cleaners, laundries and laundromats;

Media and Telecommunications Services:

  1. Telecommunications (network and equipment);
  2. Cable services;
  3. Printing (newspaper printing only);
  4. National media;
  5. Local media;
  6. Communications agencies (advertising, production, feedback);

Banking, Financial and Other Services:

  1. Placement agencies;

Read the complete list of priority services and activities.

In the event that your industry does not appear in this list or if you are unsure whether your business provides services or operates activities considered “priority” within the meaning of the Decree, Miller Thomson’s labour and employment law team can assist you. You may also make an inquiry to the Quebec Government using the online form available at the link above and by phone at 1 855 477-0777.


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