As we navigate uncertain times and uncharted territories, a lot of businesses are stuck. Should we close? Should we lay-off staff? What if we don’t follow government orders? How are we going to pay our bills?
As the response to Covid-19 is updated and modified on an almost hourly basis, answering the above questions can be tricky, and might also be costly.
We will attempt to answer your questions the best we can, however we will limit ourselves to Canada and British Columbia, where we operate.
What to do in your company
First thing first. If the industry of your business is under provincial order to close, you must do so. For example, British-Columbia mandated all businesses such hairdressers, spas, tattoos and massages to close. Other provinces such as Ontario and Quebec have mandated a closure of all non essential businesses.
Not doing so exposes to a hefty fine. Besides this, it’s your responsibility as an employer to provide a safe environment for your employees.
If your business is an essential service, or is not under order to close, assess whether your employees need to physically be at work. Anyone who can work from home should do so. If you need to provide them with adequate supplies/resources, so be it!
Prioritize the work that must be done within your company premises. It may mean delaying some projects.
Protect your employees. Implement the required physical/social distancing. You may to have to reconfigure your work settings. Increase sanitation. Ensure your premises are cleaned-up everyday. Have hand sanitizer/soap and cleaning wipes. Avoid travel and in-person meetings, as well as visitors to your premises.
Do not allow any sick employee to come to work. Covid-19 has a lot of common symptoms with flu and cold. Same goes for employees returning from overseas. They must self-isolate for 14 days.
What if my employees refuse to come to work?
This could happen. In British-Columbia, an employee has the right to refuse unsafe work. Besides, the province has made dismissing an employee for following provincial orders during Covid-19 illegal.
That’s why it’s very important that you provide as safe working environment, as discussed above.
If your employee can’t come to work because they’re caring for their children or a sick relative, you can put them on a job protected leave. BC has just created the Covid-19 unpaid leave of absence, allowing workers to take time off work while guaranteeing their jobs.
What if I have to lay-off staff?
In British-Columbia, there are 2 possibilities when it comes to laying-off employees.
Temporary lay-off: you can do this only if it’s included in your work contracts and your employees agree to it. The lay-off period must be between 13 and 20 weeks. After that period, you will recall your employees.
Regular lay-off: terminating the employment.
In both cases, you will probably have to pay the applicable severance. Economic and business circumstances are usually not taken into consideration. Employment Law is a complex matter however. Since we’re not specialist, we suggest you talk to an Employment Lawyer to determine severance requirements.
Alternatives to lay-offs
Canadian Emergency Wage subsidy: Providing a subsidy equivalent to 75% of an employee’s wages, up to $ 847/week for 12 weeks. There are requirements for businesses to receive the subsidy. Click on the link to see them. This program allows you to keep your employees on payroll as well as saving your business’money.
Work-share program: This program provides EI benefits to workers who agree to reduce their hours and share the work available. Employees remain employed and paid. Employers remain in business.
Other financial assistance
- Deferment of sales tax and custom duties until June
- Deferment of income tax payments until August 31st, without penalties or interest
- Business credit availability program: will roll-out mid April
- Canada Emergency Business Account: providing up to $40K of interest free loans to small businesses. Will also roll-out mid April
Navigating these uncertain times is challenging. For many, help cannot come fast enough. Please do not hesitate to contact us. We can help you figuring out the best solutions for your business and your employees.