New COVID-19 Restrictions in British Columbia Affecting Employers

On November 19, 2020, pursuant to the province’s ongoing state of emergency relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government announced new province-wide restrictions by order of the Provincial Health Officer, many of which affect employers, including local governments.

COVID-19 Safety Plans:

Most notably, employers are being asked to review their COVID-19 Safety Plans. We wrote about the requirement for all employers to develop and implement a COVID-19 Safety Plan in a previous blog post. WorkSafeBC has now provided a guide for employers for reviewing and updating their COVID-19 Safety Plans. The restrictions also emphasize that an employer must ensure that a worker attending the employer’s work site has done a daily health check for symptoms of COVID-19.

Working Remotely:

Under the new restrictions, employers are required to make every effort to provide remote working options for their employees. This can be a challenge for local governments given their status as public institutions. In particular, many public utilities and other services cannot be conducted remotely, meaning that local governments are required to carefully scrutinize occupational health and safety requirements affecting their essential workers in the context of the pandemic. For those employees who are able to work remotely, local governments will also need to assess logistical concerns such as how to provide employees with the technical ability to conduct remote work, how to maintain privacy and confidentiality over information within the local government’s possession and control, how and when employees will be required to be available, under what circumstances they would be expected to attend in person, and other relatively new considerations.

Masks:

Pursuant to the recent restrictions, employers are required to ensure that all workers and customers wear masks in common areas, including libraries, community and recreation centres and city halls. Though the provincial government does not appear to have specifically commented on whether members of the public attending local government sites are considered “customers”, it is likely that such individuals are indeed customers for the purposes of the requirement to wear a mask in common areas. Local governments will therefore want to consider their policies around informing employees and members of the public of the requirement to wear a mask in common areas, and ensuring that employees are prepared for how to proceed in the event that a visitor or employee refuses to wear a mask in a common area. Local governments will also likely want to familiarize themselves with the circumstances in which an individual might be exempt from the requirement to wear a mask.

The new restrictions announced on November 19, 2020 are to be in effect until December 7, 2020 at midnight. It is unclear at this time whether and for how long these restrictions will be extended. For advice relating to COVID-19 Safety Plans and other matters affecting local governments in their capacity as employers, please contact our Associate, Kerri Crawford at kcrawford@sms.bc.ca.