On May 6, 2020, British Columbia Premier John Horgan, alongside Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced the details of BC’s Restart Plan for the reopening of the provincial economy and a return to the “new normal” in our province. The Plan, which is broken down into four phases (discussed in more detail in our publication: COVID-19: Cross country update (May 6, 2020)) will move ahead to Phase 2 after the upcoming May long weekend.
Phase 2 means certain businesses that were shuttered as a consequence of the orders or guidance of the Provincial Health Officer can now reopen if they can demonstrate that they are able to operate safely. These include medically related services (e.g., dentistry, physical therapy), the retail sector, hair salons, restaurants, museums, and office-based worksites. Phase 3, tentatively set to commence in June 2020, if transmission rates of COVID-19 in BC remain low or in decline, will see the reopening of hotels and resorts (June 2020), domestic film industry productions (June/July 2020), and movie theatres and symphonies (July 2020).
For many BC businesses, the announcement of the Restart Plan has been met with equal parts of enthusiasm and anxiety. What will the “new normal” mean for businesses in BC?
As was the case prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in BC, employers are required by BC’s Workers Compensation Act to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers and other parties at their workplace. Helpfully, WorkSafeBC is working alongside the provincial government to develop industry-specific guidance to assist a variety of businesses to safely resume their operations:
- WorkSafeBC has a COVID-19 information and resources page which directs employers and workers to a variety of information pertinent to the issue of safely reopening operations in light of COVID-19, including health and safety information for specific industries.
- The BC Ministry of Health, in conjunction with the BC Centre for Disease Control, has created a variety of industry-specific public health guidance documents, found on the government’s website under the “Guidance” heading.
As per a recent order of Dr. Henry regarding Workplace Safety Plans, employers are required to post a copy of their COVID-19 Safety Plan on their website as well as their workplace. However, BC businesses must determine for themselves what their COVID-19 Safety Plan should entail, and whether they are able to operate safely in light of these new restrictions.
Whether you are in the process of preparing your business’s restart plan and feeling confident about your ability to reopen safely, or overwhelmed by the myriad requirements on businesses due to COVID-19 and wondering where to start, all BC-based businesses should keep the following tips in mind:
Work With Your Occupational Health and Safety Committee
- Your Occupational Health and Safety Committee has likely already played a crucial role in the closure or modification of your operations prior to the announcement of BC’s Restart Plan. Allow your committee to take the lead on identifying and finding solutions to issues related to reopening your business, as well as receive and address complaints related to the health and safety of your employees.
- The committee should focus on implementing control measures to prevent your employees from being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. For guidance on what these controls may look like, consider the hierarchy of controls, and what is both effective and practicable for your workplace.
Work With Your Employees
- You will want to be thoughtful and proceed cautiously as you plan to reopen your business, keeping in mind the Occupational Health and Safety obligations on your operations. Make sure you consider how long it may take to develop and implement your reopening plan, and the effect that the timing and nature of the reopening will have on your employees.
- Occupational Health and Safety requirements may result in a gradual or staggered return to work for your employees. However, ensure that unionized employees are recalled to the workplace according to the terms of your collective agreement, and that non-unionized employees are returned to work before the expiration of the temporary layoff period under the BC Employment Standards Act (16 weeks).
- Be prepared for the fact that some employees may view the changes to their workplace or positions as a constructive dismissal. Others may refuse to report to work due to safety concerns, request to take leaves or vacation, or have difficulty performing their modified duties or schedule due to family obligations or a disability. Investigate these concerns and communicate with your employees as issues arise.
Stay Informed and Stay the Course
- Keep up to date with the latest federal and provincial announcements with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic by subscribing to official and trustworthy sources of information.
- Provide educational opportunities for your employees about new workplace requirements relating to public health (e.g., physical distancing, handwashing, PPE requirements) and employment policies (e.g., availability of sick leave, need for medical notes, requirements around working from home).
- Continue the standard practices of your business with respect to Occupational Health and Safety unrelated to COVID-19.
If you have specific questions about how to safely restart or modify your BC-based operations in light of COVID-19, the Labour and Employment group of Miller Thomson’s Vancouver office is available to help you navigate this process.
Miller Thomson is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure that we provide our clients with appropriate support in this rapidly changing environment. For articles, information updates and firm developments, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.