2021 has just started and with a vaccine on the horizon, employers are trying to hang on and hope for the best. Most employers’ businesses are typically slow in January as a rule and it might be a great time to consider what workplace policies, practices and employment agreements need to be updated, supplemented or replaced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta also has had some significant changes to the Employment Standards Code, Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act in the past 6 months that employers and employees should be aware of.
- Employment Contracts: Existing and new hire employee contracts should be reviewed to ensure they appropriately address various issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront, such as temporary layoffs and the potential for constructive dismissal claims. Employers will want to ensure their employment contracts have legally enforceable temporary layoff provisions and termination clauses, as well as provisions regarding the employer’s ability to change duties, compensation, and work location. Many employers are now facing civil claims of constructive dismissal from the temporary layoffs that were effected since March of 2020, and some of these claims for long-serving senior employees can be very expensive.
- Travel Policies: Earlier in 2020, we saw many employers scrambling to amend their travel policies to provide for travel restrictions and quarantine periods. New rules have been instituted once again and employer travel policies need to account for issues that can arise for employees who might be required to travel internationally for business or otherwise. Starting January 7, 2021, air travellers who are 5 years of age or older are required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result to the airline prior to boarding international flights bound for Canada. When you enter Canada, you must now do one of the following: isolate for 14 days if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or if you know you have COVID-19, quarantine for 14 days if you do not have symptoms and comply with mandatory isolation or quarantine requirements. Any failure to comply will result in fines, penalties or imprisonment. If an international traveller is arriving at Calgary International Airport or Coutts land border, they may be eligible for a reduced quarantine time as per the Alberta COVID-19 Border Testing Pilot Program, which started November 2, 2020, but must still produce a negative test to their airline prior to travelling back to Canada.
- Leave of Absence Policies: Most employers’ leave of absence and sick policies do not sufficiently address considerations related to COVID-19. Time off policies should be clear for employees as to whether leaves of absence will be paid or unpaid. Alberta has introduced amendments to job-protected leaves, as a result of COVID-19 and employers’ policies will have to be adjusted to comply with these amendments. The policies also need to be provided to all employees and the employees should acknowledge receipt.
- Remote Work from Home Policies: Work from home policies should address mandatory and/or optional work from home arrangements and considerations related to security, privacy, compensation adjustments and acceptable use of company equipment. Employers should be clear as to whether the work from home arrangement will be temporary and just for the current situation involving COVID-19, or whether the employer intends to make the policy permanent or a hybrid of the two. The clearer you can be now, the less trouble the parties will find themselves in later should the work environment shift once again.