Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) Overview

What is CEWS?

The CEWS was a federal wage subsidy program, established during the early part of the pandemic. With various adjustments to its criteria and structure over time, it ran for 21 consecutive, four-week claim periods and ended on October 23, 2021.  

Retailers who saw drops in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to cover part of their employee wages up until October 23, 2021. Retroactive applications for these claim periods are still open.

A newer hiring subsidy program, the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP), has been established and will be continued into 2022. Eligible retailers will be able to turn to the CRHP to help with payroll costs.

Retailers experiencing severe revenue reductions after October 24, 2021, may still be eligible for a CEWS-like wage subsidy through the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program (HHBRP).

Support for losses experienced from public health lockdown or capacity reduction orders can be accessed through the Local Lockdown Program (LLP) after December 19, 2021.

Overview of the CEWS

Since retroactive CEWS applications are still open, the following information may be helpful to retailers looking for wage subsidies only up until the end of claim period 21, October 23, 2021.

2021 Federal Budget and fall extension

The table below captures the program’s last three claim periods, as per changes announced in spring and summer 2021. Retailers can still apply for these claim periods online.

Period 19
August 1 – August 28
Period 20
August 29 – September 25
Period 21
September 26 – October 23
Maximum weekly benefit per employee*$452$452$226
Revenue Decline:
70% and over40%
(i.e., Base: 25% +
Top-up: 15%)
40%
(i.e., Base: 25% +
Top-up: 15%)
10%
(i.e., Base: 10% +
Top-up: 10%)
50%-69%Base: 25% +
Top-up: (revenue decline – 50%) x 0.75
(e.g., 25% + (60% revenue decline – 50%) x 0.75 = 32.5% subsidy rate)
Base: 25% +
Top-up: (revenue decline – 50%) x 0.75
(e.g., 25% + (60% revenue decline – 50%) x 0.75 = 32.5% subsidy rate)
Base: 10% +
Top-up: (revenue decline – 50%) x 0.5
(e.g., 10% + (60% revenue decline – 50%) x 0.5 = 15% subsidy rate)
>10%-50%Base: (revenue decline – 10%) x 0.625
(e.g., (30% revenue decline – 10%) x 0.625 = 12.5% subsidy rate)
Base: (revenue decline – 10%) x 0.625
(e.g., (30% revenue decline – 10%) x 0.625 = 12.5% subsidy rate)
Base: (revenue decline – 10%) x 0.25
(e.g., (30% revenue decline – 10%) x 0.25 = 5% subsidy rate)

For more information, see the federal government summer 2021 backgrounder.

Furloughed employees: The subsidy for furloughed employees will be capped at $595/week bringing it into line with the maximum amount available under EI.

Deeming rule: The deeming rule continues in place that provides that an employer’s decline in revenues for any particular qualifying period is the greater of its decline in revenues for the particular qualifying period and the immediately preceding qualifying period.

This essentially means automatic qualification at the same revenue decline level for two periods in a row. It also means that you would get one last month of CEWS support even if your revenues show no decline in the current month as long as your previous month did have a revenue decline.

Those who happen to experience deeper relative revenue drops in successive months would of course be free to use the revenue decline of the current month if that would deliver a better CEWS outcome.

New Executive pay claw-back: Starting in summer 2021, the CEWS contains a rule designed to deter companies from receiving CEWS while increasing executive compensation in 2021 beyond 2019 levels. The amount of the wage subsidy required to be repaid would be equal to the lesser of:

  • the total of all wage subsidy amounts received in respect of active employees for qualifying periods that begin after June 5, 2021; and
  • the amount by which the corporation’s aggregate specified executives’ compensation for 2021 exceeds its aggregate specified executives’ compensation for 2019.

This requirement to repay would be applied at the group level and would apply to wage subsidy amounts paid to any entity in the group. Specified executives are defined for the purposes of this rule and generally include CEOs, CFOs and a corporation’s three other most highly compensated executives. View more information.

Applications

Applications for the CEWS for a given claim period remain open for several months after the end of that claim period. You can find out when applications for a given claim period open and close on the government’s website. View more information.

Reference Periods – Current for all Claim Periods Open for Application

Your revenue for a month is measured either against revenue in the same month last year or against the average of January and February 2020.

You can also choose to compare either the current month or the immediate past month to its corresponding month in a year earlier as the basis to determine the assistance due for the current month (or can compare either the current month or the immediate past month against the average of January and February 2020).  That ensures that you will receive at least two months at consistent levels of financial support.

If you do choose to use the January & February 2020 average for comparison purposes for CEWS, you must also use that method for CERS and vice versa.

For periods beginning September 27, 2020, applicants for the top-up subsidy can use the current month (or immediate prior month) YOY comparison in the same way as they do for the base CEWS subsidy.  However, you can still opt to use the previous rolling three-month average YOY comparison if it would be advantageous to do so. 

Hence, the CEWS top-up subsidy is calculated based on the better of (a) the same current month/previous month year-over-year comparison as exists for the base CEWS; or (b) the three-month revenue decline compared year-over-year.  

Businesses using the general approach of comparing reference periods year over year to show revenue decline switched to 2019 calendar months in spring 2021. This change was made to ensure 2021 revenue was still being compared to pre-pandemic revenue.

However, some businesses may not have been in existence for theses 2019 months. New flexibility has been introduced into the program to allow businesses in this situation to switch to using the alternative approach (comparing their 2021 reference period revenue to an average of January to February 2020 revenue) for Periods 14 to 17, March 14 to July 3, 2021. More information can be found in the summer 2021 federal wage and rent subsidy program announcement. View announcement.

How to apply

There are three options for retailers to apply for CEWS with CRA:

More information

Q&As

  • Uncategorized FAQ
  • Quelles sont les exigences en matière de vaccination au Canada pour les employés et les consommateurs ?

    Les exigences en matière de vaccination varient selon la province ou le territoire. Pour en savoir plus, veuillez consulter la page du site du CCCD consacrée aux exigences provinciales en matière de preuve vaccinale.

  • How can I find out what other financial relief might be available to me?

    The federal government has released a user-friendly, quiz-based search tool. In less than a minute, the tool asks for information including your location, number of employees and key concerns. Then it quickly lists all the federal programs that could help retailers, including federal relief that targets specific regions and demographics (e.g. specific streams under the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund). View federal relief measures tool. 

    However, this tool only allows you to select “wholesale and retail” as your business type.  To view relief measures specific to retailers at both the federal and provincial level, see RCC’s Relief Measures by Region. 

  • What information resources will be available to members regarding COVID-19?

    Our dedicated COVID-19 page is updated daily with information
    addressing retailer-specific questions and concerns.

    RCC webinars are also open to all retailers every Wednesday on a variety of topics that impact retail operations during the COVID-19 crisis. RCC’s dedicated team are also available for members to contact with specific questions about the most current regulations in their areas. 

  • Supply chain and Products
  • It’s hard to find PPE (personal protective equipment). Where can I find items like hand sanitizer and masks?

    RCC has a Retail Supplier Directory and will be continually adding more PPE suppliers.

    Some regions have set up provincial PPE supplier directories which you can view in RCC’s chart here.

  • Reopening
  • Rent Relief and Lockdown Support
  • What is the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and does it help retailers?

    The CERS was a federal rent and property expense support program established to help businesses affected by COVID-19.  If eligible, retailers would have received direct support from the federal government. The CERS program ended on October 23, 2021, but retroactive application remains available.

  • How is Lockdown Support calculated under the temporary Local Lockdown Program?

    The subsidy rate under the Local Lockdown Program is set at the same rate as the qualifying retailer’s rate of revenue decline, from 25% up to a maximum of 75%. Once a retailer has figured out their subsidy rate, they can claim a subsidy dollar amount by applying that rate to eligible rent and wage expenses.

     View RCC Local Lockdown Program Overview.

  • How do I apply for the new, temporary Local Lockdown Program?

    Applications to the Local Lockdown Program will be administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on a period-by-period basis.

    Retailers will need to apply through the CRA via MyBusiness Account (MyBA)  OR Represent a Client. View CRA Local Lockdown Program page.

  • Reductions in retail workers’ hours
  • Are employees whose hours have been reduced as a result of COVID-19 eligible for any benefit programs?  

    Individuals who saw a 50% reduction in their average weekly income due to a COVID-19 public health order may be eligible for the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB).

    For employers, there is a payroll subsidy available to qualifying retailers through the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP). Wage subsidies can also be accessed under the Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program (HHBRP) and the Local Lockdown Program (LLP).

     EI Work-Share is another option: employers can reduce hours while employees receive EI Work Share benefits.

    Qualifying employers may also benefit from a retroactive application for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. The CEWS could help cover costs to you for time periods up to the program’s end date on October 23, 2021.

    Some regional governments have also released COVID-19 relief measures for individuals. These vary by region. For more information, see RCC’s CEWS overview, RCC’s CRHP Overview, RCC’s Work Share Overview, RCC’s HHBRP Overview, RCC’s LLP Overview, and RCC’s Relief Measures by Region.

  • When we reopen, are there any requirements as to how I recall staff? I’m assuming that I will be bringing back staff in phases, as business ramps up. Do I have to call people with seniority back first? Full time before part time? Or can I just call back whoever I think I need to operate best?

    It’s important to review your staff contracts.  Unless you have a collective agreement that speaks to this (especially seniority) in a unionized setting, then you would be able to choose who to bring back and in what order.

  • Non-governmental financial support for retailers
  • How do I approach cyber insurance and risk management?

    Retailers may wish to consider cyber insurance, or to assess their current coverage if they already have it. The cyber insurance market is evolving rapidly.

    If you choose to improve your cyber maturity during this period, be aware that sensitive communications on cyber risk might be subject to disclosure requirements in regulatory investigations and litigation if a cyber incident occurs. Consider implementing a legal privilege strategy as you navigate cyber risk management so that your communications are privileged, where appropriate. View more information and links to Canadian COVID-19 fraud and cybersecurity guidance.

  • Should I apply for business interruption insurance coverage due to effects of COVID-19 on my retail store(s)?

    Yes, you should apply if your stores are closed or have otherwise been significantly affected by COVID-19. For example, even if an anchor tenant in your shopping centre has closed due to COVID-19 and it affects you, apply. Recent case law is evolving on insurance coverage in this area. It is wise to give your insurance company notice now by applying for coverage, so as not to preclude yourself unintentionally from potential benefits later, even if you anticipate a denial of coverage at this time.

  • Masks
  • If features are added to the mask such as a valve, filter, or wire around the nose would that change anything about my ability to sell the masks?

    Adding any extra features would not necessarily change the requirements. A retailer would still need to ensure the product is clearly labelled, that it is not intended for medical use and does not pose a danger to human health or safety.

  • How can retailers help reinforce mask wearing in their stores while keeping their employees safe?

    If a customer refuses to wear a mask, depending on jurisdiction, you may be obligated to point them to alternative options such as curbside pick-up and/or delivery rather than allowing them into the store without a mask. Please refer to RCC’s Mask Requirements by Region page for more information.

    • Clearly communicate the need to wear a mask in store via all means including your website, social media and in-store signage. 
    • Indicate how your business can accommodate customers who cannot wear a mask (e.g. curbside pick-up).
    • Have a policy prepared in the event of an escalated situation so that staff know how to handle the situation.
    • Politely ask the customer to reconsider wearing a mask if they are refusing to do so. 
    • Retailers should be mindful that there may not be a viable legal defence to protect them in the event of a physical altercation (e.g. a defence of necessity or avoidance of greater harm).   
    • If a physical altercation ensues, law enforcement should be called immediately. View CDC US guidance on how to deal with ‘anti-mask’ customers: Limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19

  • What are a retailer’s rights to deny entry to someone refusing to wear a mask?

    • Laws vary from province to province. On a broad basis, retailers are required to make best efforts to ensure that people are wearing a mask when entering a retail environment
    • Retailers should control entry into their premises in ways that are reasonable and not discriminatory
    • In addition to legal obligations, public relations and customer relations considerations should be thought through.

    If a customer refuses to wear a mask, depending on jurisdiction, you may be obligated to point them to alternative options such as curbside pick-up and/or delivery rather than allowing them into the store without a mask. Please refer to RCC’s Mask Requirements by Region page for more information.

  • What is the role for face shields as a public health tool?

    Currently, PHAC has advised that face shields alone do not provide either personal protection or source control, and should only be used if a mask cannot be worn (and then only if they wrap around the face and cover the chin). This is consistent with many other major organizations, including the US CDC and the World Health OrganizationFace shields are only effective when worn along with masks.   

  • What are examples of medical conditions that prevents people from wearing a mask or face covering?

    • People who are unable to put it on or take it off by themselves due to a physical disability, 
    • People with facial deformities, 
    • Peoples who, due to cognitive impairment, an intellectual disability, an autism spectrum disorder, an addiction problem or a severe mental health problem, are unable to understand the requirement or for whom wearing a mask or face covering causes significant disorganization or distress, 

    • People who have a severe skin condition on the face or ears that is significantly aggravated by wearing a mask or face covering. 

  • It’s hard to find PPE (personal protective equipment). Where can I find items like hand sanitizer and masks?

    RCC has a Retail Supplier Directory and will be continually adding more PPE suppliers.

    Some regions have set up provincial PPE supplier directories which you can view in RCC’s chart here.

  • What regulations should I be aware of if I want to sell non-medical masks in Canada? Are there any specific Health Canada regulatory safety requirements for “fashion face masks/covers”?

    There are no regulations specific to a fashion face covering or mask. However, it’s important to know that masks are assumed to be medical devices unless it is explicitly clear on the labelling that they are not intended for medical use. Additionally, the same regulations that would apply to any product being sold in Canada are still applicable. View Regulatory requirements for non-medical masks/fashion face coverings more info.

  • As a retailer, would I need a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL) to sell masks?

    A retailer would not require an MDEL to sell to the public. However, if they sell masks to a hospital or health care facility, they would be considered a medical device distributor and would require an MDEL.

  • Keeping people safe from infection: Best practices
  • How long do I leave returned products aside before I can safely re-sell them?

    There is little consistency amongst jurisdictions on this question. See “Returns” in RCC’s COVID-19 Requirements for Retailers guide.

  • If I have an employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19, what do I do?

    • The health care provider who makes the diagnosis has the obligation to call and inform Public Health right away. 
    • The Public Health official will conduct the investigation and contact the employer, notifying them about the investigation. 
    • Any disclosure to other employees must respect privacy legislation and be done in accordance with advice from the public health unit.
    • Specific requirements vary by jurisdiction.  At a minimum, restrict access to area(s) the employee worked and comprehensively disinfect the premises using a Health Canada-approved disinfectant.
    • Continue to practice physical distancing, regular handwashing and other regularly prescribed COVID-19 mitigation protocols
    • Generally, an employer is not obligated to inform customers. Public Health officials will conduct an investigation and provide the required follow-up. 

    RCC has an incident checklist for retailers dealing with a positive COVID-19 case. View checklist.

    Vancouver Coastal Health has a useful resource guide on response to employee sickness or positive COVID-19 diagnosis


  • What are the limits in different regions for the number of people inside a retail store at any one time?

    The occupancy rules vary by province. Generally, they are based on either the number of people per square metre, or, percentage of the fire code occupancy limit. See “Maximum number of people in store” in RCC’s COVID-19 Requirements for Retailers guide. 

  • How can retailers help reinforce mask wearing in their stores while keeping their employees safe?

    If a customer refuses to wear a mask, depending on jurisdiction, you may be obligated to point them to alternative options such as curbside pick-up and/or delivery rather than allowing them into the store without a mask. Please refer to RCC’s Mask Requirements by Region page for more information.

    • Clearly communicate the need to wear a mask in store via all means including your website, social media and in-store signage. 
    • Indicate how your business can accommodate customers who cannot wear a mask (e.g. curbside pick-up).
    • Have a policy prepared in the event of an escalated situation so that staff know how to handle the situation.
    • Politely ask the customer to reconsider wearing a mask if they are refusing to do so. 
    • Retailers should be mindful that there may not be a viable legal defence to protect them in the event of a physical altercation (e.g. a defence of necessity or avoidance of greater harm).   
    • If a physical altercation ensues, law enforcement should be called immediately. View CDC US guidance on how to deal with ‘anti-mask’ customers: Limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19

  • What are a retailer’s rights to deny entry to someone refusing to wear a mask?

    • Laws vary from province to province. On a broad basis, retailers are required to make best efforts to ensure that people are wearing a mask when entering a retail environment
    • Retailers should control entry into their premises in ways that are reasonable and not discriminatory
    • In addition to legal obligations, public relations and customer relations considerations should be thought through.

    If a customer refuses to wear a mask, depending on jurisdiction, you may be obligated to point them to alternative options such as curbside pick-up and/or delivery rather than allowing them into the store without a mask. Please refer to RCC’s Mask Requirements by Region page for more information.

  • What are retail best practices for gathering and sharing personal health information in response to COVID-19?

    The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has released general COVID-19 guidance on privacy obligations in information-sharing situations during the pandemic. The OPC guidance also includes links to regional privacy regulators’ resources. This is helpful if you are trying to decide how much of someone’s personal information to collect, e.g. if they are sick or you think they might be, and when to share their information with another organization.

    Even during the pandemic response, normal privacy laws apply unless emergency legislation provides otherwise.

    PIPEDA, which applies to many retailers, only allows you to collect, use or disclose personal information based on meaningful consent and for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances. Generally, exceptions apply when (1) a person is critically ill, (2) where a public health authority with legislative authority to request the information is asking (it’s key to check if they’re actually authorized to ask you), and if (3) you think someone is breaking a quarantine order. View OPC guidance.

  • What types of disinfectants should be used?

    A list of Health Canada-approved disinfectants can be found here

  • Where can I find comprehensive information on keeping businesses and employees safe?

    Comprehensive information how businesses and employees can stay safe while operating during COVID-19 from the Public Health Agency of Canada is here.

  • Is there a health and safety risk presented by the handling of cash money or credit cards?

    The Bank of Canada has advocated for retailers to continue to accept cash to ensure Canadians can have access to the goods and services they need, particularly for those that might be “unbanked”. However, cash is handled many times and therefore can present some risk.

    Ensure employees frequently wash their hands and have access to single use gloves, hand sanitizer and that they avoid touching their faces. “Tap” contactless payments are encouraged wherever possible.

  • It’s hard to find PPE (personal protective equipment). Where can I find items like hand sanitizer and masks?

    RCC has a Retail Supplier Directory and will be continually adding more PPE suppliers.

    Some regions have set up provincial PPE supplier directories which you can view in RCC’s chart here.

  • Employees are experiencing very chapped hands because of all the extra handwashing they are doing to combat the spread of COVID-19. Without asking them to wash their hands less, what can we do?

    Regular handwashing is necessary and must be continued.  However, people can wash their hands with warm water, instead of very hot water, and they can apply hand lotion afterwards.  With many people also taking the precaution of wearing gloves at work, hand washing in warm water at home and applying moisturizer then is also especially helpful.

  • Independent retailers
  • Where can I find a flexible small business loan online?

    You can apply online (no fees) for a small business loan of up to $100,000 at the BDC. View BDC Small Business Loan.

  • It’s hard to find PPE (personal protective equipment). Where can I find items like hand sanitizer and masks?

    RCC has a Retail Supplier Directory and will be continually adding more PPE suppliers.

    Some regions have set up provincial PPE supplier directories which you can view in RCC’s chart here.

  • With increases in eCommerce and remote work, what can independent retailers do to protect themselves against fraud and cybersecurity risks during COVID-19?

    Phishing, videoconferencing vulnerabilities, malware and simple mistakes are only some of the increased cybersecurity risks.

    Retailers seeking to protect themselves against heightened fraud and cybersecurity risk must look to their people (e.g. training), processes (e.g. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies) and technologies (e.g. updated virus protection, videoconferencing safety).

    Keep in mind that not all fraud risks are necessarily cyber risks. For example, reported COVID-19 scams include fraudsters posing as public health agencies to get personal information (retailers should always check that someone asking them for this data has legal authority to do so) and posing as vendors selling COVID-19 tests. 

    Read more:

    Cybersecurity guidance specifically for small and medium businesses exists and could be useful to many independent retailers. View resources.

  • Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP)
  • What is the HASCAP loan Guarantee and how do I get it?

    The HASCAP Guarantee is a federal government support program to help the businesses hardest-hit by COVID-19.  This program is available to all eligible retailers, regardless of sector, until March 31, 2022.

    Retailers can apply through their primary financial institutions for a HASCAP loan of $25,000 – $1M to cover their operational expenses. The government (BDC) will provide a 100% net loss guarantee to make it easier for these retailers to secure a loan.

    To qualify, a retailer must, among other criteria:

    • be a commercial enterprise whose intent is to generate revenue from the sale of goods or services that is at least sufficient to cover its operating expenses and service its debt
    • have been financially stable and viable prior to the current economic environment
    • not have an impaired loan (as determined in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards) as at March 1, 2020, or the eligible loan closing date

    Applicants must also have received payments from one of the federal Covid-19 financial relief programs. If your business did not qualify for any of the federal support programs, but otherwise meets all HASCAP eligibility criteria, you can provide financial statements that show three months in which monthly year-over-year revenue decreased by at least 50% within the eight-month period prior to the date of the HASCAP Guarantee application.

  • What does the HASCAP Guarantee offer?

    • Loan amount between $25,000 and $1M per legal entity
      • Maximum combined eligibility of $6.25 million for related legal entities
    • Up to 10-year repayment term
    • 4% fixed interest rate
    • Up to 12-month postponement of principal repayments at the start of the loan

    View more HASCAP Guarantee information.

  • As a retailer, can I qualify for the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) Guarantee?

    This program, despite its name, has sector-agnostic application criteria. In other words, the sector you are in is irrelevant to the loan application.

    Criteria are mainly financial and include your ability to demonstrate the pandemic’s significant negative financial impact on your business. View RCC HASCAP Overview.

  • Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program (HHBRP)
  • Are the federal wage and rent COVID relief programs over as of October 23, 2021 (CEWS and CERS)?

    October 23, 2021, is the last day of the last claim period for which you can apply for the CEWS wage or CERS rent program. While the programs are officially over, retroactive applications remain open.

    The wage and rent programs also “live on” as mechanisms to deliver federal government support to retailers navigating negative financial consequences from the pandemic, e.g. through temporary Local Lockdown Support (LLP) and the Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program (HHBRP). View LLP Overview. View HHBRP Overview.

  • What is the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery program?

    The Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program, announced by the federal government in October 2021, is available to businesses who can show they have faced deep and enduring financial losses.

    It provides wage and rent subsidy support based on a new eligibility system whereby applicants will need to demonstrate significant revenue losses over the course of 12 months of the pandemic, as well as revenue losses in the current month.

    A new, temporary Local Lockdown Program, established in connection with the HHBRP but with expanded eligibility criteria, is available to eligible retailers navigating capacity reduction orders during the Omicron surge.

    View more informationView RCC HHBRP Overview. View Local Lockdown Program Overview.

  • Handling personal and business information (e.g. health data, online safety, fraud)
  • What do I do if I am asked to share someone’s health information with a public health authority to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?

    Retailers may receive requests from other organizations to share information that would identify an individual. Few circumstances legally require a private company to share someone’s health information with the government.

    Before you share any information, verify whether the organization, e.g., a health authority, has a legal basis for requesting it, or if they are just asking you to cooperate.

    If you do share a person’s information, assess the request carefully. Taking care what information you release, why, and to whom will help you reduce regulatory, litigation and reputational risk. Whether you are legally required to share someone’s personal information or not, documenting how you analyzed privacy considerations in the process of deciding to share that information would be wise. Privacy principles such as accountability, transparency, consent and limiting data collection and sharing still apply. View more legal information

  • I am a retailer but have restaurant seating, so am following regional contact tracing requirements to capture contact information from seated diner groups. Any best practice tips?

    • Generally, collect as little information as possible and keep it for as short a time as possible. Read the order closely. If it says something like, ‘Gather name and phone number from one person per party,” take only that.
    • Store the contact information you collect somewhere secure. ‘Analogue’ methods include writing the information in a book and storing that book behind lock and key overnight. If you choose to use a digital method of collection and storage, such as a reservation app, do some quick research to understand more about how this third party will treat your customer information: will they keep it safe without using it for additional purposes? (Generally, retailers can still be held accountable for what happens to personal information that they collect and then share with other companies).
    • Delete the information after the required time period.
    • If someone asks you for this information for contact tracing purposes, make sure you get some evidence from them that they are from a public health authority with the power to make this request. If and when you do share information you’ve collected, it’s wise to document why you did so and who you shared it with. There are privacy regulators empowered to make inquiries if someone complains that you mishandled their personal information, in which case having records and demonstrating good practice could help you.

  • What are retail best practices for gathering and sharing personal health information in response to COVID-19?

    The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has released general COVID-19 guidance on privacy obligations in information-sharing situations during the pandemic. The OPC guidance also includes links to regional privacy regulators’ resources. This is helpful if you are trying to decide how much of someone’s personal information to collect, e.g. if they are sick or you think they might be, and when to share their information with another organization.

    Even during the pandemic response, normal privacy laws apply unless emergency legislation provides otherwise.

    PIPEDA, which applies to many retailers, only allows you to collect, use or disclose personal information based on meaningful consent and for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances. Generally, exceptions apply when (1) a person is critically ill, (2) where a public health authority with legislative authority to request the information is asking (it’s key to check if they’re actually authorized to ask you), and if (3) you think someone is breaking a quarantine order. View OPC guidance.

  • Can retailers screen customers at the door for entry, e.g. with temperature testing?

    Individual screening, such as temperature testing, is technically permissible, yet must be approached very carefully. Be aware that government guidance in this area is sparse yet rapidly evolving. First, avoid any impression of screening customers for any reason beyond a belief that the customer may be exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. Second, if it is felt that temperature testing is advantageous, take great care to do so in accordance with Canadian privacy principles, e.g. be mindful of consent and of limiting and protecting the personal information that is obtained and shared. Also, staff taking customer temperatures must continue to follow the usual care in observing 2-metre physical distancing limits and other health precautions.

  • With increases in eCommerce and remote work, what can independent retailers do to protect themselves against fraud and cybersecurity risks during COVID-19?

    Phishing, videoconferencing vulnerabilities, malware and simple mistakes are only some of the increased cybersecurity risks.

    Retailers seeking to protect themselves against heightened fraud and cybersecurity risk must look to their people (e.g. training), processes (e.g. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies) and technologies (e.g. updated virus protection, videoconferencing safety).

    Keep in mind that not all fraud risks are necessarily cyber risks. For example, reported COVID-19 scams include fraudsters posing as public health agencies to get personal information (retailers should always check that someone asking them for this data has legal authority to do so) and posing as vendors selling COVID-19 tests. 

    Read more:

    Cybersecurity guidance specifically for small and medium businesses exists and could be useful to many independent retailers. View resources.

  • How do I approach cyber insurance and risk management?

    Retailers may wish to consider cyber insurance, or to assess their current coverage if they already have it. The cyber insurance market is evolving rapidly.

    If you choose to improve your cyber maturity during this period, be aware that sensitive communications on cyber risk might be subject to disclosure requirements in regulatory investigations and litigation if a cyber incident occurs. Consider implementing a legal privilege strategy as you navigate cyber risk management so that your communications are privileged, where appropriate. View more information and links to Canadian COVID-19 fraud and cybersecurity guidance.

  • Financial supports for individuals (e.g. CRB)
  • What are the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit?

    The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) was a program that helped individuals affected by Covid-19. The CRB ended on October 23, 2021View more information.

    Shortly before the Omicron surge, the government announced a new CRB-like $300/week benefit called the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB). Eligibility for the CWLB only arises in the event of a local lockdown public health order.

    Government individual support programs site.

  • Financial relief
  • What kind of restrictions from a COVID-19-related public health order are eligible for lockdown support?

    Lockdown support during the Omicron surge may be available to qualifying retailers under the temporary Local Lockdown Program (LLP). Under this program, applicants do not need to show a full lockdown order to access financial support. Showing reduced capacity can still be enough to qualify, IF

    1. One or more of the retailer’s locations is subject to a health order that effectively reduces capacity at that location by 50% or more, and;
    2. Activities restricted by the order made up at least 50% of the retailer’s total qualifying revenues in the prior reference period.

    Unless extended, Local Lockdown Program subsidies will be unavailable for any days before December 19, 2021, and after March 12, 2022. View LLP Overview.

    Retroactive applications are also still possible for the last few claim periods of the old form of lockdown support (“the Lockdown Top-up”) under the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) program. The CERS, and its specific form of lockdown support, ended on October 23, 2021. View CERS Overview.

  • What is being done to ensure better access to credit for mid-size and large retailers?

    The federal Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) and the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) provide eligible mid-size and large retailers with government-backed credit solutions.

    Onboarding under the EDC Loan Guarantee from the Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) is closed as of December 31, 2021.

    Additional options for eligible retailers include the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) Guarantee and an EDC Small Business Loan.

    For more information on BCAP, see the BDC and the EDC. 

    For more information on LEEFF, see the federal COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.

    View RCC HASCAP Overview and EDC Small Business Loan.

  • What is the “lockdown top-up,” or “lockdown support”?

    Lockdown top-up refers to extra support available through the federal CERS rent relief program for retailers subject to COVID-19-related public health orders. Established as a rent subsidy for businesses hurt by COVID-19, the CERS program ended on October 23, 2021.

    Retroactive application for earlier time periods remains possible. If you had to close or cease certain activities at one or more of your locations under a public health order for one week or longer, you may be eligible for lockdown support of up to 25% of eligible expenses per affected location based on the days the order was in place.

    Retailers should be aware that if they do not qualify for the base CERS subsidy in a given claim period, they will also not be eligible to apply for lockdown support during that claim period.

    RCC’s CERS overview contains more information. 

  • EI Work-Share
  • Do retailers need a separate application for each location, or can a Work-Share agreement apply to staff across multiple store locations?

    If the stores have separate ownership, e.g. if they have different business numbers, then they have to submit separate applications.  If they all fall under one business number, then one application can be submitted, with each of the Work-Sharing units documenting on a separate Attachment A.

  • How do I contact Service Canada to get specific information on detailed Work-Share questions?

    Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) Service Canada has created an inquiry unit for employers affected by COVID-19 that are seeking general information related to the Work-Sharing Program. Inquiries can be sent to edsc.dgop.tp.rep-res.ws.pob.esdc@servicecanada.gc.ca.

    For more information including telephone numbers and hours, view Work-Share website.

  • What is EI Work-Share?

    EI Work-Share is a program to help employers and employees through tough times by allowing employers to have staff on reduced hours while the staff (there must be a minimum of 2 employees in a work share unit) are supported through the EI framework. EI Work-Share is based on an agreement between employees, employers and Service Canada. The maximum length of this form of support (i.e. of EI Work-Share agreements under COVID-19 special measures) has been doubled to over a year (76 weeks).

  • Given the uncertainties of COVID-19, is an estimate of anticipated percent reduction of work hours acceptable?

    Yes, an estimate is fine.

  • EI – Records of employment and payroll
  • I am not sure what code to put in ROEs for employees whose loss of work is connected to COVID-19. Can you provide clarity?

    Generally, if shortage of work is why you are laying them off, i.e. you have closed your retail business or have reduced operations, use code A (Shortage of Work). If the person is sick or in mandated quarantine, use code D (Illness or Injury). If the employee refuses to come to work but is not sick or quarantined, use code E (Quit) or code N (Leave of absence), as appropriate. To expedite processing, do not add comments.

    For more Q&As specifically on ROE coding and other payroll questions arising from COVID-19, see COVID-19 Canadian Payroll Association guidance.

  • COVID-19 employee policies
  • What are the vaccination requirements across Canada for employees and customers?

    Vaccination requirements vary across Canada. For more information, see RCC’s Table on Proof of Vaccination Requirements by Province.

  • If I have an employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19, what do I do?

    • The health care provider who makes the diagnosis has the obligation to call and inform Public Health right away. 
    • The Public Health official will conduct the investigation and contact the employer, notifying them about the investigation. 
    • Any disclosure to other employees must respect privacy legislation and be done in accordance with advice from the public health unit.
    • Specific requirements vary by jurisdiction.  At a minimum, restrict access to area(s) the employee worked and comprehensively disinfect the premises using a Health Canada-approved disinfectant.
    • Continue to practice physical distancing, regular handwashing and other regularly prescribed COVID-19 mitigation protocols
    • Generally, an employer is not obligated to inform customers. Public Health officials will conduct an investigation and provide the required follow-up. 

    RCC has an incident checklist for retailers dealing with a positive COVID-19 case. View checklist.

    Vancouver Coastal Health has a useful resource guide on response to employee sickness or positive COVID-19 diagnosis


  • My employees do not wish to return to work in my store, but I need them now. What do I do?

    In general, a refusal to return to work is deemed to be a resignation. Employers are empowered to treat an employee’s refusal that way, although it would be best to determine if there are special circumstances influencing an employee’s refusal to return, for example: is the employee a caregiver? Are they at high risk for COVID-19?  Therefore, we recommend that you exercise caution and have an active dialogue with your employees before you make a termination. 

     If special circumstances do exist, explore how the employee can be accommodated within the workplace. Whatever you decide in the end, document your exchanges about accommodation and keep them on file. 

  • What can I do as a retailer to create the safest possible COVID-19 work environment for my employees? What safety measures must/should I put in place for my employees?

    For more detail, RCC
    SOPs on workplace safety can be found here.

    • Most jurisdictions require worker screening for symptoms prior to entry into the workplace.  Workers who fail screening should not enter the store or office, and should put on a mask before going home. 
    • Employees and customers who are ill must be informed (signage) not to enter the store. 
    • Many jurisdictions require employees and customers to wear masks in indoor public spaces.  See RCC’s Mask Requirement page. 
    • Break rooms, lockers and employee gathering places such as offices are proven to be places where the virus is most often spread in workplaces. Where possible, schedule breaks and lunch hours at staggered times to reduce interactions.  Ensure physical distancing in break rooms, change rooms, outdoor smoking areas, and offices. 
    • Where employees must carpool to and from work together, try to start and end their shifts at the same time to reduce their interaction with other employees. 
    • Enhance the workplace sanitation plan and schedule, and ensure staff are practicing proper hygiene. This includes frequent hand washing, coughing or sneezing into an elbow rather than a hand, and avoiding touching one’s face. 
    • Ensure the washrooms are always well stocked with liquid soap and paper towels and that warm running water is available. Antibacterial soap is not recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
    • Provide clean carry-out bags for purchased products while respecting provincial and local laws. You may choose to enact a policy that customer packaging (reusable bags, containers, cups or boxes) will not be handled by workers. 
    • Use a physical queue line controls such as markers or cordons at entrances and in checkout lines inside stores. 
    • Where applicable, place markers every 2 metres at checkouts and entrances to provide customers with visible cues that support physical distancing.  
    • Place alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers near doors, payment stations and other high-touch locations for customer and staff use, making wipes and trash bins available for wiping shopping carts and disposing of the wipes.  
    • Have clear signs at each entrance that indicate the maximum number of customers and staff a store can accommodate at any one time.  
    • Monitor the number of customers and staff entering and leaving the store. Once the maximum number of persons for a store is reached, allow one person in for every person that leaves.  
    • Offer online or telephone orders with delivery or pick-up services as alternatives to shopping in person.  
    • Clean high touch surfaces such as pay stations, bagging areas and carts or hand baskets between each customer and use and encourage tap payment over pin pad use.  
    • Limit the handling of credit cards and loyalty cards wherever possible, by allowing customers to scan.  
    • Employees who handle cash or credit card must wash their hands frequently with soap and water. This includes before any breaks, at the end of their shift, and before preparing food.  
    • Should operators and employees choose to use gloves, employees must wash their hands thoroughly before putting on the gloves and change them regularly. Change the gloves before you handle money or credit card machines, and afterward. Wearing gloves does not reduce the need for hand washing. Even while wearing gloves, employees must avoid touching the face. 

    Vancouver Coastal Health has a useful resource guide on response to employee sickness or positive COVID-19 diagnosis

  • How can retailers help reinforce mask wearing in their stores while keeping their employees safe?

    If a customer refuses to wear a mask, depending on jurisdiction, you may be obligated to point them to alternative options such as curbside pick-up and/or delivery rather than allowing them into the store without a mask. Please refer to RCC’s Mask Requirements by Region page for more information.

    • Clearly communicate the need to wear a mask in store via all means including your website, social media and in-store signage. 
    • Indicate how your business can accommodate customers who cannot wear a mask (e.g. curbside pick-up).
    • Have a policy prepared in the event of an escalated situation so that staff know how to handle the situation.
    • Politely ask the customer to reconsider wearing a mask if they are refusing to do so. 
    • Retailers should be mindful that there may not be a viable legal defence to protect them in the event of a physical altercation (e.g. a defence of necessity or avoidance of greater harm).   
    • If a physical altercation ensues, law enforcement should be called immediately. View CDC US guidance on how to deal with ‘anti-mask’ customers: Limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19

  • My employee is invoking their “right to refuse” unsafe work – what do I do?

    Under provincial Occupational Health and Safety legislation, employees have a right to refuse work if they have reasonable grounds to believe it is dangerous to their health or safety. Remind your employees of the preventive measures that have been put in place, and the safety products available to them. This may help mitigate instances of employees refusing to work due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

     Every employee has a duty to report any dangerous situation to their supervisor. The employer then has a duty to take remedial action by having the workplace health and safety committee and/or representative investigate. In some cases, a government health and safety officer may need to investigate as well. 

    In some provinces, when one employee has made a report that an activity is ‘unsafe work’, until that report is resolved you may have an obligation either (a) to inform, or (b) not to ask other employees to undertake the alleged ‘unsafe work’ until the ‘unsafe work report’ is complete.

     The employer may choose to reassign work. In this case, the employee must receive the same wages and benefits as they would have received under their previous assignment.  

  • What are the obligations of my employees?

    Employees must take the necessary steps to protect their own health and wellbeing and that of their co-workers. Employees must comply with any preventive measures put in place by the employer (use of personal protective equipment, follow hygiene requirements, etc.), and they must report hazards to their employers. The possibility they may have been exposed to the virus or are displaying COVID-19 symptoms is a workplace hazard that must be reported to the employer immediately. RCC SOPs on workplace safety can be found here.

  • Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP)
  • What is the Canada Recovery Hiring Program?

    To help retailers experiencing revenue reductions of over 10% to hire and retain staff, the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP) subsidy is available to subsidize payroll at eligible employers until at least May 2022.

    The Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP), even though it is described as a “hiring” subsidy program, actually supports payroll growth. This growth can be through new hires, higher wages, increased hours, or the return of staff who may have been laid-off during the pandemic.

    View RCC’s CRHP Overview.

  • How do I know if my company is a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC)?

    The CRA has a list of requirements that you must meet at the end of the tax year in order to be a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC).

    The general theme is that the CCPC label is restricted to private companies controlled by Canadian individual and private corporate residents. 

    View CRA CCPC Requirements

  • Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)
  • What is the federal government offering in terms of wage subsidies for retailers?

    The main wage subsidies still available to eligible retailers are the Canada Recovery Hiring Subsidy (CRHP) and wage support under the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program (HHBRP) and Local Lockdown Support (LLP).

    Wage subsidies under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) also remain available for eligible retailers, via retroactive application, for a few months leading up to the CEWS’ program’s last day on October 23, 2021.

    View RCC’s CEWS overview. View CRHP Overview. View HHBRP Overview. View LLP Overview.

  • When does the CEWS end?

    The time periods for which retailers may qualify for CEWS subsidy coverage end on October 23, 2021. Retroactive applications remain open.

  • Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)
  • Has the deadline to repay my CEBA loan been extended?

    During the Omicron surge the government announced that the repayment deadline for CEBA loans to qualify for partial loan forgiveness had been extended from December 31, 2022, to December 31, 2023, for all eligible borrowers in good standing.

    Repayment on or before the new deadline of December 31, 2023, will result in loan forgiveness of up $20,000. Any outstanding loans will subsequently convert to two-year term loans with interest of 5 per cent per annum commencing on January 1, 2024, with the loans fully due by December 31, 2025.


  • Can I still apply for CEBA loan?

    No. The program is closed and is no longer receiving applications. The deadline to repay the CEBA loan and qualify for partial loan forgiveness has been extended until December 31, 2023. View government website. 


  • For further information, please contact: Karl Littler, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at klittler@retailcouncil.org or 416-906-0040.

    Be heard. Save money. Stay informed.

    Become a member