Alberta businesses may face mandatory workplace closures under new COVID-19 public health orders

In response to climbing COVID-19 case numbers and an increasing number of Albertans testing positive for ‘variants of concern’, the Alberta Government responded on May 6, 2021 by introducing further public health measures aimed at ‘stopping the spike’. Meanwhile, Alberta continues to accelerate its vaccine roll-out to more of the population.

The most recent orders (CMOH Order 19-2021 and CMOH Order 20-2021) contain many familiar provisions, including mandatory masking in indoor public places and businesses and a continuing prohibition on indoor social gatherings, but also introduce new restrictions on businesses of which employers should take notice. CMOH Order 19-2021 applies in areas with high case counts, imposing additional restrictions on those regions. CMOH Order 20-2021 applies in the remaining regions with low case counts, which are listed in Appendix A to the Order.

Part 11 of CMOH Order 19-2021 (and Part 12 of CMOH Order 20-2021) introduces new provisions relating to mandated workplace closures where an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases has been identified in a workplace and an order has been issued requiring the closure of the workplace location. This provision mirrors similar public health orders which were introduced in some municipalities in Ontario in late April and have led to numerous full or partial workplace closures.

Summary of New Workplace Closure Procedures and Protocols:

  • A “cluster” of COVID-19 cases in a workplace is defined as “three or more documented cases of COVID-19, where an investigation initiated under the Public Health Act determines that transmission has likely occurred at a workplace between staff or any other persons attending at the worksite location.”
  • Once a “cluster” has been identified, the business operator must close the workplace location for ten days when a medical officer of health or executive officer issues an order under the Public Health Act (the order may apply to the entire workplace or just part of it, depending on the circumstances)
  • The ten day closure period begins on the date the “cluster” of cases is determined to exist.
  • All persons are prohibited from attending the workplace location during the closure period, except:
    • To perform essential construction, renovations, repairs or maintenance;
    • To respond to an emergency; and
    • To provide essential care for animals.

The information available on the Government of Alberta website as of the date of this post specifies that “work camps, essential and critical services” are exempt from these new workplace closure measures, however, no further definitions of “essential” or “critical” are provided. Guidance may be taken from a previous order (CMOH Order 07-2020) which defined “essential service” as “a service considered critical to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning.”

Part 12 of CMOH Order 19-2021 (Part 13 of CMOH 20-2021) provides that employers are still required to allow their employees to work from home unless the employees’ physical presence is required for operational effectiveness. Masking in the workplace remains mandatory, except in work stations or where 2-metre distancing or physical barriers are in place or a workplace hazard assessment determines there is a safety risk associated with masking.

Retail businesses which remain open and are subject to the high case area restrictions are required to limit their capacity to 10% of the Alberta Fire Code maximum capacity (15% in low case areas), or not more than five persons (whichever is greater). Personal Services and Wellness Services, such as hairstylists and cosmetic service providers, are required to close in the high case areas and must operate by appointment only in the low case areas. Across the province, Professional Services and Lodging Businesses must continue to operate by appointment only while obeying other requirements for masking, occupancy, and distancing where possible.

If you are an employer and your business requires advice on navigating these recent public health orders, please contact the Dentons Employment and Labour group for a consultation.

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Cristina Wendel

About Cristina Wendel

Cristina Wendel practices employment and labour law from Dentons’ Edmonton office. Cristina advises and represents employers in all aspects of occupational health and safety matters, including day-to-day compliance, incident response, investigations and defending employers charged with occupational health and safety offences. She also represents federally and provincially regulated, unionized and non-unionized employers in a variety of employment and labour law matters such as wrongful dismissal claims, employment standards disputes, human rights issues, labour arbitrations and labour relations board proceedings.

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Sarah Offredi

About Sarah Offredi

Sarah Offredi joined Dentons Canada LLP’s Alberta Labour and Employment group as an associate in 2020 after completing composite articles in criminal defence and civil litigation.

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