Q & As for Retailers on COVID-19

Below are answers to our members’ most frequently asked questions concerning ways to work through COVID-19 and its operational challenges and implications. We update these questions & answers daily as new information becomes available. You can search questions below with the most recently updated appearing first or switch tabs to view by category.

  • What is being done to ensure better access to credit for retailers?

    The federal Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP), the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) provide eligible retailers with government-backed credit solutions.  Interested retailers should speak to their banks:

    • Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA): This program provides interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses during COVID-19. CEBA eligibility requires a maximum 2019 payroll of $1.5 million and has a separate stream for businesses with payrolls at or below $20,000.

      25% (up to $10,000) of the loan is forgivable if the loan balance is repaid by December 31, 2022. In August, the CEBA was extended until October 31, 2020. More details on eligibility requirements can be found on the federal government’s website. View information.
    • Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP). In August 2020, the government extended the BCAP until June 2021.
      • EDC Loan Guarantee for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises: The government (Export Development Canada) is working with financial institutions to guarantee 80% of new operating credit and cash flow term loans of up to $6.25M.
      • BDC Co-Lending Program for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: The government (Business Development Canada) is working with financial institutions to co-lend (up to 80%) term loans to SMEs for their operational cash flow requirements. Eligible businesses may obtain loans of up to $6.25 million.
      • BDC’s Mid-Market Financing Program. This will provide commercial loans between $12.5M to $60M to medium-sized businesses who need additional support. Qualifying retailers may need to have annual revenues over approx. $100M. To receive updates as the program develops, you can sign up on the BDC’s website. View sign-up.        
      • EDC’s Mid-Market Guarantee and Financing Program. This is intended to bring liquidity to companies who tend to have revenues of $50 – $300M so that they can sustain operations. EDC is working with Canadian financial institutions to guarantee 75% of new operating credit and cash-flow loans, ranging from $16.75M to $80M. Those to whom these expanded guarantees are available include exporters, international investors and businesses selling their products or services within Canada. More details to be released as the program opens.
    • Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF). The LEEFF program provides emergency funding support for large Canadian enterprises, including retailers, facing financial challenges in light of the pandemic’s economic impact. LEEFF is for large Canadian employers who:
      • Have a significant impact on Canada’s economy, as demonstrated by (i) having significant operations in Canada or (ii) supporting a significant workforce in Canada;
      • Can generally demonstrate approximately $300 million or more in annual revenues; and
      • Require a minimum loan size of about $60 million.
      • Email contacts and online forms to apply for LEEFF funding are available online. View information.

    For more information on BCAP, CEBA and LEEFF, see the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the BDC, the EDC and CEBA.

  • How will the CERB benefit work for those who receive CPP?  

    CERB is available to those who are or expect to be without employment income or self-employment income. Receiving CPP should not preclude an otherwise eligible individual from receiving CERB.  

  • What government support is available for retail businesses?

    The federal government has announced a series of financial relief measures for businesses affected by COVID-19. These include tax deferrals and wage subsidies for employers, new benefits for individuals out of work due to COVID-19 and easier avenues to credit for business. 

    Provincial governments have also introduced various forms of financial relief. These vary by region and tend to include property tax and utility bill deferrals.

    For comprehensive information on each jurisdiction, see RCC’s Relief Measures by Region.

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

    Yes, an estimate is fine.

  • I am an independent retailer who is not working now due to COVID-19. Am I eligible for CERB?

    If your business has ceased operations as a result of COVID-19, you will likely be eligible for CERB, to which you can apply retroactively.

  • 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.

  • How will retail franchises be treated?

    We expect that revenue and rent will be assessed under CECRA at the franchise level.

  • What is being done to ensure that where there may be product shortages, e.g. for hand sanitizer, alternative brands can be sourced?

    Governments across the country are working with local manufacturers, food producers and distilleries who have capabilities to produce these goods to do so in a manner that is approved by Canadian health standards so that retailers can have stocked shelves and that our supply chains remain strong.

    We continue to remind customers to only buy what they need.  This is especially important since people who purchase items in unnecessarily large quantities cause shelves to be emptied much more quickly and add pressure to already stressed eCommerce systems.

  • Am I eligible for CERB if I volunteer to be temporarily laid off/furloughed by my employer whether to help them manage the pressures on their business or because I am in a vulnerable age group or have immune deficiencies or similar?

    Yes. You are eligible for the CERB if you are laid off/furloughed as a result of reasons related to COVID-19.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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:

  • What is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)?

    CERB is a specific COVID-19 income-support benefit for individuals. It provides a maximum of 28 weeks of $500/week payments and is distinct from the EI (Employment Insurance) framework.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • What happens if an employee on a work-share needs to go into quarantine or self-isolation – how does that affect others in a work-share?

    If they have to go into quarantine or self-isolation, their status would change to sick, they would receive sick benefits and others in the unit would have to pick up the extra work.

  • 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 Tuesday and Thursday on a variety of topics that impact retail operations during the COVID-19 crisis. RCC’s dedicated team of Regional Directors are also available for members to call with specific questions about the most current regulations in their areas. 

  • What if, as a tenant, I cannot afford to pay my 25% of the rent under CECRA?

    Alternate federal relief programs exist to help tenants who may not be able to pay their 25% portion of rent. These include the Canada Emergency Business Account interest-free loan of up to $40,000, 25% of which is forgivable if the balance is repaid on or before December 31, 2022.  View more information

  • What kind of support programs will be available once the CERB runs out?

    The federal government has created four new programs to replace the CERB. These include a revised form of Employment Insurance (EI), the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit. See RCC’s guide to new income support programs.

  • I am receiving CERB payments but am worried I might have to pay them back. What do I have to look out for?

    There are several circumstances in which individuals may have to pay back their CERB payments. These include:

    • If you return to work earlier than you expected, or you receive retroactive pay from your employer.
      • Mainly, if your employer is paying you by receiving the federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), you are not supposed to receive the CERB for the same time period.
    • If you applied for the CERB but later realized you were not eligible.
    • If you received a payment from both Service Canada and the CRA for the same period.  

    The Canada Revenue Agency is encouraging people who need to repay their CERB to do so by December 31, 2020. View more information.

  • 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 not pose a danger to human health or safety.

  • 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 and must be followed including:

    It is prohibited to manufacture, import, advertise or sell any product that poses a “danger to human health or safety”, which is in accordance with paragraphs 7(a) and 8(a) of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA). It is the responsibility of the retailer to ensure that face masks, including their components, do not pose a danger to human health or safety.

    Like other apparel items, fashion face masks are required to meet other regulatory requirements, including (but not limited to):

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

    • 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 pickup).
    • 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. 
    • If the customer continues to refuse to wear a mask, you can let them into the store in order to reduce the risk of a further conflict. 
    • 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.

  • Can I have employees on Work-Share and receive the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for them at the same time?

    It is possible to combine both the Work-Sharing Program and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). However, any Work-Sharing EI benefits received by employees through the Work-Sharing program will reduce the subsidy you would receive under the CEWS.

  • 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. In Quebec specifically it is prohibited for a retailer to allow a person into the store who is not wearing a face covering – law enforcement is to be contacted if there is a problem. 
    • Retailers are not required to deny access to someone refusing to wear a mask.
    • Retailers can control entry into their premises in a way that is reasonable and not discriminatory.
    • In addition to legal obligations, public relations and customer relations considerations should be thought through.

  • 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

  • My small business was closed to foot traffic for a while but I maintained a small amount of business revenue through e-commerce and curbside sales. Am I eligible for CERB for the applicable time periods, including retroactively?

    Yes, if you did not pay yourself more than $1000 in the initial 14-day period and ongoing as long as you did not pay yourself more than $1000 in each of the subsequent four-week periods.

  • When employees who are part of a work-share agreement receive EI benefits to compensate for the wages the employer is no longer paying them due to their reduced hours, what is the maximum top-up allowed?

    When employees have work and work for the company, they are paid their full wages by the company.  On the days they do not work, they are entitled to 55% of their salary to a maximum of $573 per week pro-rated to the days they do not work.

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

    The pandemic has driven a rapid switch to online transactions, including remote work and web and phone order processing and fulfillment. People can take advantage over the internet of a product’s known vulnerabilities (e.g. old security software), as well as human error and habit (e.g. emails that trick staff into opening malicious links and attachments, called phishing), in order to access sensitive business and personal information.

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

    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).

    Read more:

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

  • As a small retail tenant, can I benefit from CECRA if I have already paid rent for one or more of those months?

    Yes, CECRA can be applied for retroactively. Property owners must refund amounts paid by the small business tenant if the agreement is concluded after rent has been paid for those months. CECRA also provides for a credit to be provided to tenants for subsequent months instead, as long as the landlord agrees.          

  • 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.

  • Can commissioned salespeople participate in the work-share program? If so, how do we calculate their income?

    Yes they can, it they meet the eligibility criteria. For the purpose of submitting your application, you should estimate the average pay, including salary and commissions of each individual and then average it out over the whole unit for an overall amount.

  • What is required from landlords and tenants for the CECRA application?

    • It is one application that covers April, May and June. It looks to see whether the average revenues for all those three months are 70% or more below the baseline.
      • Forecasts will be accepted for June.
    • Requires landlord application, a rent reduction agreement(s) and landlord and tenant attestations. Portal will be available 24/7 and template documents are available
    • Landlords must agree that the rent that is forgivenreduced and will never be recoverable or collected through significant or disproportionate rent increases.
    • Tenant attestation covers rent cap of $50,000, enterprise size of $20 million or less and 70% or greater revenue loss when compared to the same months last year or the average of January and February 2020.
    • Non arms-length parties need to show a valid lease and attest that the rent is not above market value.

  • Assuming that EI Work-Share benefits are not necessarily going to match the employee’s previous income, are Supplementary Unemployment Benefits (SUB) an option?

    No, this is not eligible with the Work-sharing program. The utilization of Supplementary Unemployment Benefits (SUBs) in conjunction with WS benefits is not allowable due to the fact that WS participants are considered employed.

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

    The ESDC has established a Work-Share Rapid Response team. You can send them general  inquiries on your specific situation by email: [email protected].

    Applications for the program can also be made over email, by region. View application.

  • How can I find out what financial relief programs apply 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.

  • If we have team members on the Work-Share program, but we end up having to lay them off completely, will being on the Work-Share program impact their EI benefits and the duration of being on EI?

    WS participation normally would not impact the benefit rate and the normal duration of an EI claim if an employee is laid off during the work-share agreement, or at its end.

    WS benefits are not regular benefits, so WS participation doesn’t exhaust any employee entitlement to regular or special EI benefits if only WS benefits were paid. Also, EI employee benefits are based on the employee’s original ROE, not on the WS hours. 

  • When does the CERB program end? Can individuals apply retroactively?

    The CERB is available from March 15 to October 3, 2020. Individuals can apply until December 2, 2020 for retroactive payments.

  • Can I file retroactively to get the CEWS for additional employees, even if I put in another application before for a qualifying period?

    Yes, you can.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I have more specific questions about the CECRA program. Where can I find answers?

    The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which administers CECRA, has detailed FAQs to help you. View CHMC page.

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

    Generally, physical distancing limits apply to retail stores. A minimum of 2 square meters of physical distancing between people is often the requirement or guideline. See “Maximum number of People in store” 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.
    • Best practices are evolving. At minimum, restrict access to area(s) the employee worked and comprehensively disinfect the premises. 
    • Continue to practice physical distancing, regular handwashing and other regularly prescribed COVID-19 mitigation protocols
    • The employer is not obligated to inform customers. Public Health officials will be conducting the investigation and providing the required follow-up to the retailer. 

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


  • 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 meter physical distancing limits and other health precautions.

  • 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.

    • Enhance the premise’s 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 required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
    • Provide clean carry-out bags for purchased food and grocery products. Inform customers that customer packaging (e.g. containers, reusable bags, or boxes) will not be handled by workers.  
    • Post signs at each check out indicating no customer packaging is to be used or placed on checkout counters.
    • Use a physical queue line controls such as crowd control cordons at entrances and in checkout lines outside the stores.
    • Place markers such as tape or cones every 2 metres 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 in multiple locations 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 food and grocery 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, ensure thorough hand washing before and after each change of gloves.
    • Ensure staff with cold, influenza, or COVID-19 like symptoms such as sore throat, fever, sneezing, and coughing remain at home.
    • Consider signage urging customers to maintain in-store physical distancing and to not enter a store if they have a cold or flu-like symptoms.

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

    Under 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.

    Each 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.

    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.

  • Who can enforce physical distancing rules in a retail setting?

    Various authorities can enforce these rules. RCC is working with governments to clarify and harmonize how the rules are enforced.

  • 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.

  • Our employees are not comfortable working during COVID-19. Are they eligible for CERB?

    CERB is not available for employees who quit their jobs voluntarily.

  • Can employees who are kept on staff but given reduced hours receive CERB?

    Yes. The CERB program has been extended to allow individuals who have suffered a partial loss of income to still receive the benefit as long as they are earning under $1,000 a month. 

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

    Yes. Consider looking into the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. They can also apply for CERB (available retroactively between March 15 and October 3, 2020), though note that CERB and the subsidy are not intended to be received in connection with the same employee.

    EI Work-Share is another option: employers can reduce hours while employees receive EI benefits. This requires an agreement between the employer, a group of at least 2 employees and Service Canada. More retail Q&As are below specifically on worker-oriented COVID-19 relief measures including CERB, EI and EI Work Share.

    Some regional governments have also released COVID-19 relief measures for individuals, including sometimes for workers. These vary by region and include one-time payments to individuals and changes to employment law regimes. For more information, see 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.

  • My employees are receiving the CERB and 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 quitting one’s job. Employers are empowered to treat an employee’s refusal that way, although it would be best to first see if there are special circumstances influencing an employee’s refusal to return (e.g.: is the employee a caregiver? Are they at high risk for COVID-19)? 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 types of disinfectants are required for changerooms?

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

  • How long do I leave returned products aside before I can safely re-sell them?

    Best practice on how long to keep returned items before offering them for re-sale is still evolving. Suggested time periods tend to vary from 24 hours to 72 hours and are influenced by several factors including product type. Regional government policies on return specifics also vary. Check the Returns section of RCC’s regional resources where your stores are located. View resources.

  • What is the federal government offering in terms of rent relief for retailers?

    The federal government has established the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. CECRA provides forgivable government loans to commercial property owners intended to help them lower rent by 75% for small businesses heavily affected by COVID-19 from April – September 2020. Smaller retailers who paid rent for those months can also receive a rent reimbursement or rent credit for rent paid in excess of 25%.  View CECRA application.

    CECRA covers:

    • Eligible small business tenants, including retailers, paying no more than $50,000 in monthly gross rent per location (as defined by a valid and enforceable lease agreement), and
    • Who have temporarily ceased operations or experienced at least a 70% revenue drop in April, May and June 2020 compared to revenue for those months in 2019 (or to an average of January and February 2020 revenue)
    • Eligible tenants can make no more than $20M in gross annual revenue, calculated on a consolidated basis (at the ultimate parent level)
    • The CECRA program provides forgivable government loans to property owners who agree to reduce a small retail tenant’s rent by at least 75%.
      • That agreement includes a provision protecting the retail tenant from eviction while the agreement is in place.
      • The small retail tenant covers up to 25% of rent remaining, with the property owner covering the other 25%.
      • The forgivable loan to eligible commercial property owners covers 50% of gross rent owed by the small retailer for April, May and June 2020. With 50% in forgivable loans and with the tenant’s 25% remaining part of the rent, commercial property owners eligible for CECRA should still receive 75% of the amount they expected in rent.

  • I am an independent retailer who has experienced store shutdowns as a result of COVID-19, but who has continued to receive a small amount of income from curbside and/or online sales. Should I stop eCommerce in order to qualify for CERB? Or am I able to earn some income and still qualify for some CERB benefits?

    Yes, you are still able to earn some income. However, you can only earn up to $1,000 during each 4 week CERB eligibility period if you wish to keep receiving the CERB. You can apply to receive CERB support retroactively from March 15, 2020 if you would have been eligible under these rules.

  • 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 I require a doctor’s note if an employee says they have COVID-19 or related symptoms?

    Doctor’s note requirements for these kinds of sick leaves vary by region. Regional requirements are listed below in brief.

    BC: During the declared COVID-19 emergency, BC’s Provincial Health Officer told employers that they should excuse workers for sickness without requiring a doctor’s note.  

    Alberta: No doctor’s note required. 

    Saskatchewan: No doctor’s note required 

    Manitoba: No doctor’s note required. 

    Quebec: Employers can still ask for a doctor’s note.  

    Ontario: No doctor’s note required. 

    NS: No doctor’s note required.   

    NB: Employer can require a doctor’s note.  

    PEI: No doctor’s note required.  

    Nfld and Lab: Employee must provide employer with evidence that is reasonable in the circumstances for needing to take the leave, but the employer cannot require a doctor’s note. 

  • What is the Federal government offering in terms of wage subsidies for retailers?

    The federal government has established the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to help employers keep staff on payroll despite revenue declines caused by COVID-19.  

    CEWS support takes the form of a government subsidy based on specific criteria. First established in the early stages of the pandemic, the CEWS program has undergone various developments including an extension until the end of 2020.

    The program can generally be divided into Phase 1 (for support between March 15 to July 4) and then into several phases that make up the rest of the extended time. View Phase 1 information. View extended CEWS information.

  • 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.

  • How do I know if I am eligible for the 10% Temporary Wage Subsidy?

    The federal government offers a three-month 10% Temporary Wage Subsidy for Employers.

    You are an eligible employer if you:

    • are a(n):
      • individual (excluding trusts),
      • partnership,
      • non-profit organization,
      • registered charity, or
      • Canadian-controlled private corporation (including a cooperative corporation) eligible for the small business deduction,
    • have an existing business number and payroll program account with the CRA on March 18, 2020, and
    • pay salary, wages, bonuses, or other remuneration to an eligible employee.

    Partnerships are only eligible for the subsidy if their members consist exclusively of individuals (excluding trusts), registered charities, or Canadian-controlled private corporations eligible for the small business deduction.

  • Is there an income threshold to qualify for the CERB?

    Individuals applying for CERB must have had a minimum income of $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application.

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