Answers to frequently asked questions for retailers. Updated March 30, 2020.
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.
The Federal government announced changes to the previously wage subsidy on March 27, 2020. They released a list of frequently asked questions on that previous subsidy, but note that these details may change following the March 27, 2020 announcement.
RCC member-exclusive webinars every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 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 their areas. Jump to contact information.
“Essential Service” Retail Definitions
The definition of “essential services” is different by province. Please refer to RCC’s summary of retail essential services in various regions and our Relief Measures and Updates by Region pages for more information.
In several provinces, “non-essential” workplaces have been mandated close to help curb the preventable spread of COVID-19. Workers that can work from home are being encouraged to do so.
RCC is continuing to work with governments at all levels to further refine the range of retail services deemed essential to meet the diverse needs of Canadians.
Operating during the crisis: Relief programs
- Employees but also to the self-employed.
- Individuals who are at least 15 years old and have not quit their job voluntarily and who are or expect to be without work for 14 consecutive days within the initial 4-week period. Expected to have no employment income in the 4-week periods thereafter. Note that this may change – the Prime Minister has announced that some earnings may be permitted as the program is further refined.
- Applicants need to have had $5000 in employment-related income either in 2019 or in last 12 months prior to application. Income must be related to employment: employment; self-employment; maternity and parental benefits under the Employment Insurance program and/or similar benefits paid in Quebec under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.
For more information:
- See our federal updates section for current COVID-19 measures.
- Analysis of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan
- RCC analysis of worker-specific measures of COVID-19 Federal Response Plan
As of March 27, 2020, the government announced a substantial enhancement to the original March 18, 2020 wage subsidy package. see RCC’s federal update for more information. The latest federal document is here and RCC notes that the eligibility requirements may also change. We will share details as they are received.
EI Work-Share is a program to tide employers and employees over in tough times by allowing employers to have staff on reduced hours while the staff 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 (ie. of EI Work-Share agreements under COVID-19 special measures) has been doubled to over a year (76 weeks).
CERB is a new benefit announced March 25, 2020 distinct from the EI framework, introduced to combat economic hardship during COVID-19. More detail on how the CERB will interact with EI and EI Work-Share will be forthcoming; applications are expected to be open in early April and funds from applications are expected to flow from applications shortly after that. Indications are that the CERB will also be available to support smaller, self-employed business owners who are significantly impacted by COVID-19. (Information current to March 26 in a rapidly evolving situation).
The legislation establishing the CERB does include a $5,000 minimum earnings threshold for worker eligibility (Bill C-13, Part 2, section 2). The $5,000 threshold is explicitly subject to change through regulation. Earnings can be from employment, self-employment and several other sources. Until further guidance is release by the government, Bill C-13 Part 2 is a good source for more details: you can find it here. This answer is current as of March 30, 2020.
Service Canada is adapting to the sudden, COVID-19 high demand by streamlining processes and adding staff resources. Given that they are doing so, your attempts to get through to them on the phone may meet with success if you persist. Also, try not to enter any content in the ROE Comments box. Content in the comments box can interfere with automatic processing of your ROE. This answer is current as of March 30, 2020.
I am not sure what code to put in ROEs for employees who wish to self-isolate and cannot fulfill their work duties as a result. Situations range from mandated quarantine (eg: just returned from cross-border travel) to frontline workers who are simply afraid of catching COVID-19. Some, though not all, of these workers may have pre-existing conditions that could make them especially vulnerable. What do I do?
Generally, if shortage of work is why you are laying them off, ie. 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), which should allow them to take advantage of the waived one week waiting period for EI sickness benefits.
The use of codes that are not the outright E (Quit), such as N (Leave of Absence), may still have ramifications for a worker’s ability to claim EI and CERB. How the EI and CERB regimes will function together is a rapidly evolving area and RCC will share details as they emerge. For more Q&As specifically on ROE coding and other payroll questions arising from COVID-19, see COVID-19 Canadian Payroll Association guidance. There is also a brief overview of ROEs and COVID-19 on the government’s EI website. This answer is current as of March 30, 2020.
For more information on additional relief measures from the economic impact of COVID-19 that includes direct support and tax deferrals to Canadian workers and please see the Department of Finance Backgrounder.
RCC is in ongoing discussions with organizations that represent major real estate landlords about the viability of their existing tenants. We have been clear – they must provide relief to retailers and that any communication to governments, or Retail Council of Canada, without first articulating what accommodations will be made to retailers regarding their rent, will not be well received by our community. We will continue to engage in this conversation and will provide updates on a regular basis.
Do gathering limits apply to retail?
For example, the Quebec government recently announced that retailers can use the standard measurement of 50% of the maximum capacity authorized by fire code regulations.
Once there is greater clarity across the country on the specific regulations for retailers, intervention by police or the fire department is not expected to be required.
Keeping supply chains 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. Buying more than is needed at this time results in unnecessary delays for people getting access to the goods they need.
The 14-day quarantine will not apply to these drivers.
Obligations to create COVID-19 safe work environment?
- 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. Customers should not use their own containers, reusable bags or boxes.
- Post signs at each check out indicating no customer packaging is to be used or placed on checkout counters.
- Place hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% ethyl alcohol in dispensers near doors, pay stations and other high-touch locations for customers and staff use.
- 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 queues that support physical distancing.
- Consider placing 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.
- Consider monitoring 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. There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be passed on to others by touching or handling cash.
- 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.
Customers are also urged to do their part: physical distancing, not shopping when they have a cold, having one person do the shopping instead of going as a group, and, being especially respectful of the retail employees who are making personal sacrifices to ensure Canadians have the necessities they need during this crisis.
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.
Ensure employees frequently wash their hands and have access to single use gloves, hand sanitizer and avoid touching their face.
The province of Quebec is actively discouraging the use of cash, and select providers are now increasing the limits on “tap” contactless transactions.
- 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.
- The employer must inform employees about the situation and ask the staff to self-monitor their symptoms, keeping a record of all the details, and contacting public health as needed.
- Practice physical distancing, and if an employee(s) does not feel well, they should stay at home. In Ontario, a doctor’s note is not required.
- 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.
Best practice is evolving. Restrict access to area(s) the employee worked and performed a comprehensive cleaning. The good news is that using household cleaning solutions are effective when label instructions are followed. How long the virus remains on different surfaces varies, but indications is that it could be up to several days.
If you have questions specific to your area, please contact RCC’s Regional Directors directly:
- Pacific: Greg Wilson, email@example.com, 604-730-5254
- Prairies: John Graham, firstname.lastname@example.org, 204-926-8624
- Ontario: Sebastian Prins, email@example.com, 438-500-9372
- Quebec: Jean-Francois Belleau, firstname.lastname@example.org, 514-316-7659
- Atlantic: Jim Cormier, email@example.com, 902-818-7738
- Loss Prevention/Health & Safety/Accessibility, Sonny Brar, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-467-3778
- Media: Michelle Wasylyshen, email@example.com, 416-418-2239
- President & CEO: Diane J. Brisebois, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416 801-3793