Return To Work Considerations For Alberta Employers – Employment and HR


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The Alberta government has recently released an overview of its
relaunch strategy, which sets out the parameters for gradually
reopening businesses and returning employees to the workplace.
Although this will be a gradual process, employers are actively
planning for employees to return to the workplace. The purpose of
this bulletin is to outline key details of the relaunch, and to
discuss important legal considerations for Alberta employers as
they make plans to re-open their business or to bring employees
currently working remotely back into offices and businesses.

Relaunch stages

Alberta’s relaunch strategy will take place over three
stages. Enhanced infection prevention measures, such as
physical distancing requirements of at least two meters, will
remain in effect through all stages. Progression through each stage
will be based on the infection numbers and on the achievement of
health measures to the satisfaction of the Chief Medical Officer of
Health. In particular, the government will be monitoring
hospitalizations and intensive care unit occupancy.

As of the beginning of May, some restrictions have already been
lifted, including those applicable to outdoor recreation areas and
some health-care workers. As the strategy proceeds through each
stage, additional businesses that were previously declared to be
non-essential will be allowed to resume operations. Employers must
follow government guidelines and restrictions when re-opening.
Employers with questions regarding re-opening should contact
Employment Law Group

Throughout the first two stages, Albertans will be encouraged to
wear a mask when unable to maintain physical distancing. Recent
travelers, close contacts, and symptomatic people will continue to
be subject to the current self-isolation and quarantine

Stage 1

Stage 1 of the relaunch strategy will begin as early as May 14.
Restrictions will be lifted on the following businesses:

  • Some retail businesses, including clothing, furniture and

  • All farmers’ market vendors.

  • Some personal services, including hairstyling and barber

  • Additional scheduled surgeries and dental procedures.

  • Cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars can reopen for public seating
    at 50% capacity, but people will not be able to go to the bar to
    order drinks, they will need to be served at the table.

  • Museums and art galleries.

  • Daycares and out-of-school care, with occupancy limits.

  • Summer camps, with occupancy limits (this could include summer

  • Post-secondary institutions will continue course delivery, but
    method (online, in-person or blend) will depend on the restrictions
    in place at each phase.

At this stage, gatherings will continue to be restricted to 15
people, employers are still advised to allow their employees to
work remotely whenever possible, and Albertans will continue to be
cautioned against non-essential travel within or between

Stage 2

There is currently no tentative date for Stage 2, as the timing
will be determined based on the success of Stage 1 and other
medical considerations, but upon reaching Stage 2 the maximum size
for gatherings will increase and the following additional
businesses will be allowed to reopen:

  • Potential opening of K-12 schools, with restrictions.

  • Additional personal services, including artificial tanning,
    esthetics, cosmetic skin and body treatments, manicures, pedicures,
    waxing, facial treatments, massage and reflexology.

  • Restaurants, cafes, lounges and bars continue operating at
    reduced capacity.

  • Movie theatres and theatres, with restrictions.

  • Larger gatherings will be permitted in some situations (number
    of people to be determined).

Stage 3

Progression to Stage 3 will be determined by the success of the
previous two stages. Physical distancing requirements will continue
to be in place, but most of the remaining restrictions will be
lifted at Stage 3 including wearing masks, and undergoing
self-isolation and quarantine. Stage 3 will involve the

  • Fully reopening all businesses and services, with some

  • Larger gatherings will be permitted (number of people to be

  • Arts and culture festivals, concerts and major sporting events
    will be permitted, with restrictions.

  • Nightclubs, gyms, pools, recreation centres and arenas will
    reopen, with restrictions.

  • Industry conferences can resume, with restrictions.

  • No restrictions on non-essential travel.

Occupational health and safety

The following information provides an overview of the COVID-19
workplace guidance provided by the Alberta government. Employers
are highly encouraged to review the full occupation health and
safety guidelines here.

All employers have a legal obligation under occupational health
and safety legislation to create and maintain a safe and healthy
workplace for all employees. Employees also have a responsibility
to take reasonable care and to cooperate with their employer to
ensure the health and safety of themselves and others at the
workplace. Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace in the COVID-19
environment requires employers to conduct an assessment of
workplace hazards, and then implement reasonable preventative
measures to minimize the likelihood of employees being exposed to
or transmitting COVID-19. Employers are also required to take steps
to ensure that employees are aware of the preventative measures in
place, and of their own obligations to maintain a safe and healthy

Communication and hygiene

For the purpose of maintaining quick and effective communication
with employees, employers should maintain an up-to-date contact
list for all staff. To enable effective contact tracing in case of
infection, employers should also record the names and roles of
employees working at all locations on any given shift. If a
workplace has patrons within two meters of employees, a list of
patrons by time and date should also be maintained.

To maintain workplace hygiene, employers should:

  • Promote and facilitate frequent and proper handwashing by
    providing sanitizer or handwashing stations at points of entry and
    at locations where goods are handled.

  • Encourage coughing or sneezing into the elbow and prompt
    disposal of used tissues.

  • Place posters in prominent locations to remind
    staff and patrons to practice hand and respiratory hygiene.

Cleaning and hazard assessments

As noted above, employers have an obligation to conduct a hazard
assessment in the workplace. In addition, employers should develop
enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols for the workplace,
particularly for high-contact and shared locations such as doors,
light switches, faucets, and elevator buttons. Employers should
also make disposable wipes or spray cleaners available to
facilitate frequent cleaning. All communal items that cannot be
easily cleaned, such as shared magazines and newspapers, should be

Employers must perform assessments to identify COVID-19 related
hazards. Where elimination of the hazards is not possible,
employers must control the hazards using the following

  • Engineering controls such as placing physical barriers between
    staff, restricting general access to the workplace, and increasing

  • Administrative controls such as implementing policies for
    physical distancing, limiting hours of operations, and providing
    adequate supplies for hygiene.

  • Personal protective equipment such as gloves, eye protection,
    gowns, face protections, and masks as appropriate.

A combination of the above controls may be necessary to protect
employees depending on the specific work environment and on the
specific tasks being performed by the employee.

Physical distancing

Businesses are not prohibited from having more than 15 workers
in a workplace, but employers must ensure that they are supporting
physical distancing between staff and between staff and visitors to
reduce transmission. This could include the introduction of the
following measures:

  • Restricting the number of people in the business at one

  • Installing physical barriers and increasing separation between

  • Eliminating non-essential gatherings such as meetings or
    holding them in teleconference or videoconference format.

  • Remove chairs from shared spaces to discourage large
    gatherings, or staggering break periods.

  • Implementing contact-free modes of interaction.

  • Taping markers to show 6-foot distances.

Screening/dealing with symptomatic employees

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to, the

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Cough

  • Runny nose

  • Difficulty breathing

Employers must take reasonable steps to ensure that any employee
who is exhibiting any of the symptoms of COVID-19, or who is
otherwise sick with cold or flu-like symptoms, or who is living in
a residence with another person who is exhibiting any such
symptoms, does not come into the workplace. This means that
employers must communicate to all employees before any return to
work that they are strictly prohibited from being in the workplace
if they are experiencing any such symptoms or are living in a
residence with another person who is exhibiting any such symptoms.
Such individuals are required to self-isolate in accordance with
Alberta government guidelines.

If an employee comes to work exhibiting any such symptoms, or
begins to exhibit any such symptoms while at work, the employer
should take the following steps:

  • The employee should be removed from the workplace immediately
    and instructed to begin isolation at home in accordance with
    government guidelines.

  • The employer should make arrangements for the employee to get
    home safely from the workplace without using public transportation,
    as may be required for the specific employee.

  • After the employee has left the workplace, the employer should
    immediately clean/disinfect any work areas where the employee had
    recently been present.

  • The employer should record the names of all other employees
    that the sick employee has been in contact with in the 48 hours
    prior to exhibiting symptoms, as the employer may be required to
    provide such information to provincial health authorities if the
    employee later tests positive for COVID-19.

Employers are not required to, and should not attempt to,
conduct testing for COVID-19 on employees. Such testing can only be
carried out by trained medical professionals. Rather, employers
need to ensure that all employees are aware of the requirements set
out above, and otherwise carefully monitor employees in the
workplace for any symptoms. Employers should also ensure that
employees understand that they will not suffer any negative
consequences for acknowledging that they are experiencing such
symptoms and having to isolate at home as a result.

Additional workplace health and safety resources relating to
COVID-19 are available here, including specific guidance for
individual industries. Alberta Health Services has also published extensive information on infection
prevention and control.

Recalling laid-off employees

Many employers have been required to temporarily lay-off
employees as a result of COVID-19. As the government restrictions
are slowly relaxed and the economy begins to open up, employers
will be calling many of these employees back to work. There are a
number of legal considerations for employers to keep in mind.

Under the Alberta Employment Standards Code,
provincially regulated employers are required to serve a written
recall notice on an employee, via mail, in person or via email. To
ensure that employees have received the recall notice, employers
are advised to speak with each employee to advise of the recall,
and then follow up by immediately serving the written recall notice
on the employee. A recall notice must state that the employee must
return to work within seven days of the date the recall notice is
served on the employee. Employers can request that an employee
return to work in less than seven days, but cannot require the
employee to do so.

If an employee fails to return to work within seven days of
being served with the recall notice, the employee is not entitled
to termination notice or termination pay if the employer decides to
terminate the employee’s employment as a result of the
employee’s failure to return to work in accordance with the

Human rights considerations

If an employer will be recalling some, but not all, laid-off
employees, the employer must be careful not to violate any human
rights legislation. In deciding which employees to recall, an
employer is prohibited from discriminating against any employee on
the basis of a protected ground in the Alberta Human Rights
(the Act). Protected grounds in
the Act include age, gender, physical or mental
disabilities, family status, race, ethnicity and place of origin.
Federal human rights legislation includes very similar prohibited
grounds. Quite simply, any protected or prohibited ground cannot
even be taken into consideration by an employer in deciding what
employees will be recalled. For example, if an employer decides to
not to recall an employee in part because that employee has a
history of health problems, the employer will be in violation of
the Act.

The closure of schools and daycares may also create challenges
for employees who have school-aged children. If an employer recalls
an employee who has young school-aged children, that employee may
not have the ability to immediately return to work on a full-time
basis due to the fact that schools are closed and other child care
options are very limited. Employers will need to make reasonable
accommodations for employees who have legitimate child care
responsibilities, whether such employees are being recalled from a
lay-off or have been working from home without having been
laid-off. Such accommodations may include allowing an employee to
work from home where possible, and adjusting an employee’s work
hours or work schedule to accommodate child care

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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