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British Columbia: COVID-19 relief measures for your business

We know that this is a difficult time, full of uncertainty. The information you need to run your business changes rapidly, and it can be hard to keep track and make sense of it all.  

In order to relieve some of the pressure on small businesses such as yours, we are gathering all the information you need about government services and supports in British Columbia and putting it in this one location. We will continue working with governments to ensure additional relief measures become available for your business as the situation evolves.

Please check back regularly. We will update this page as more information becomes available. 

 

BC: Economic Recovery and Reopening

British Columbia and WorkSafe BC require all businesses to have an operational plan to ensure protection measures for workers are in place. Your plan should include an assessment of risk for potential spread of COVID-19 at the workplace, how measures to reduce the risk will be implemented, and how new policies and training will be communicated with staff. Please contact our Business Resources for a COVID Operational Guideline. 

Read from the drop-down below on the BC government's plan to reopen the economy, which was announced on May 6, 2020. Phase two began May 19, 2020, andPhase three began July 24, 2020. A new business closure Order came into effect November 19, 2020 and is still active - please read the drop down "Provincial Health Orders and Closures" below to ensure your business has the most up to date information. 

4-Phase Plan to Reopen the Economy

Below is the BC Government's four phase plan to reopen the economy. Despite this list, the Provincial Health Officer and Health Minister can still implement additional business closures Orders. Please review the "Provincial Health Orders and Closures" tab below to see additional business restrictions and closures.

 

Phase one (May 6, 2020)

  • Essential health and health services
  • Law enforcement, public safety, first responders and emergency response personnel
  • Vulnerable population service providers
  • Critical infrastructure, construction
  • Food and agriculture service providers
  • Industry and manufacturing
  • Sanitation
  • Communications and information technology
  • Financial institutions
  • K-12: online and in-class learning
  • Childcare for essential workers
  • Other non-essential service providers

 

Phase two (May 19, 2020):

  • Personal service establishments including: hair salons and barbers
  • Restaurants, cafes, and pubs (with sufficient distance measures put in place)*
  • Essential health and health services: elective surgeries allowed
  • Dentistry, physiotherapy, registered massage therapy, and chiropractors
  • Physical therapy, speech therapy, and similar services
  • Retail sector
  • Gyms (all five Provincial Health Authorities have allowed gyms to reopen in Phase 2)
  • In person counselling
  • Parks, beaches, outdoor spaces, boat launches
  • Office-based worksites
  • Museums, art galleries, libraries 
  • Childcare

*As of June 11, 2020 the restriction on restaurants requiring them to operate at 50 per cent of regular capacity has been lifted. The new order requires restaurants to determine how many people they can serve while still maintaining a two-metre distancing between groups. The order also states that no more than six people in any party, and if a two-metre distance can't be maintained between tables, a Plexiglas partition should be installed. In addition, buffets and self-serve stations are allowed to operate as long as a handwashing facility or hand sanitizer is available within reach and there is proper signage asking customers to clean their hands.

 

If your business is included in Phase 2, please also visit WorkSafeBC's website here to determine any other additional guidelines or measures recommended for your business to consider.

 

Phase three (July 24, 2020)

Additional details: camping at provincial parks and recreation sites reopened June 1, 2020

New Order for Nightclubs and Banquet Halls: New orders from the PHO states that all nightclubs and banquet halls must close, effective September 8, 2020. See the BC Government's News Release here for more detail. The previous provincial health order which allowed Nightlife Venues to open July 22, 2020 is now no longer in effect.

New Order for Bars, Pubs, and Restaurants: A New order from the PHO states that all bars, pubs, and restaurants must stop serving liquor by 10:00pm, and close their doors and stop service entirely by 11:00pm unless providing a full meal service, in which case they may stay open, but may not serve liquor until 11 a.m. the following day.

 

Phase four (Only achieved when threat of COVID-19 has significantly diminished)

  • Activities requiring large gatherings, such as:
    • Conventions
    • Live audience professional sports
    • Concerts
  • International tourism

Additional details: opening dates for night clubs, casinos, and bars (liquor primary) has not yet be determined, industry associations are expected to develop safety standards to be reviewed by WorkSafeBC before guidelines are determined. 

Initiatives from the BC government

Read from the drop-down below about the initiatives the BC government is taking including tax deferrals, financial support, and additional business closures. 

BC Economic Recovery Plan

On September 17, 2020 the BC government launched it's economic recovery plan which includes several initiatives dedicated to support business. Read below to learn about the initiatives and how they could help your business. You can also visit the BC Government's web page Supporting B.C. businesses to see a full list of all programs.

 

Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant

This grant program is available until August 31, 2021 (thanks to CFIB advocacy, the deadline was extended!) for businesses. Eligible businesses can receive up to $30,000, with an additional $15,000 top-up for tourism businesses. New changes introduced in February, 2021 have expanded eligibility - we recommend you check to see if your business is now eligible. The application portal and eligibility requirements can be found by clicking here

 

Launch Online Grant

The BC government launched a program which provides funding to help B.C.-based businesses sell their goods online. The grant will pay for up to 75% of eligible ecommerce, online marketing, and other digital expenses up to a maximum of $7,500. The BC government added $30 million more to the program (on top of the original $12 million) - the program will run until funding has run out. To be eligible, your business must be operating in B.C., has less than 149 employees, and has generated sales of more than $30,000 in the year preceding the application. Click here to learn more about the Launch Online grant program, or start an application

 

Increased Employment Incentive: a tax credit on payroll

To encourage hiring, the BC government is offering a 15% tax credit on payroll for new hires in low to medium-wage jobs made in Q4 of 2020. The incentive can also be claimed on wage increases for current employees in low to medium-wage job positions. For the purpose of this incentive, the government defines "low to medium-wage jobs" as maximum weekly BC remuneration of $1,129.33. Applications for the tax credit are now open, please apply by clicking here.  

 

PST Rebate on Select Machinery and Equipment

Between September 17, 2020 and September 30, 2021, corporations can apply to receive a PST refund on qualifying machinery and equipment purchases. Applications will be accepts online starting April 1, 2021. For details on eligibility and qualifying purchases, see the BC government wage page for more detail.

COVID-19 support for businesses

Taxation Initiatives

Tax deferrals for your business:

The BC Government deferred several provincial tax filings and payments. The following taxes/costs came due on September 30, 2020:

  • Employer Health Tax
  • Provincial Sales Tax
  • Motor fuel tax
  • Tobacco tax

Employers required to pay installments for the Employer Health Tax in the 2020 calendar year will be able to defer the payments. The new installment due dates are as follows: 

  • First installment - December 31, 2020
  • Second installment - January 31, 2021
  • Third installment - February 28, 2021

The remaining tax payable is due with the employer health tax return by March 31, 2021.

For a full list of tax initiatives and tax-related changes, please see the BC Goverments web page here. 

 

The BC Government is also:

  • Delaying the increase of the Carbon Tax to April 1, 2020 (initially planned for April 1, 2020).
  • Postponing the tax on carbonated, sweetened beverages until April 1, 2020

 

Tax relief for your business:

The province has reduced the Provincial Property tax (i.e. Provincial School Tax) for commercial and industrial properties (Class 4, 5 and 6). The BC government is claiming the average business will see a 25% reduction in their total property tax bill for 2020.

 

Sector Specific Initiatives

Temporary wholesale pricing model for liquor licensees: The BC government introduced a new program which will run end of July, 2020 until March 31, 2021. The program allows hospitality licensees (including restaurants, bars and pubs) to purchase beer, wine and spirits at the wholesale price instead of the normal retail markup price set by the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB). 

Liquor manufacturers temporarily allowed to do direct delivery: Until March 31, 2021 (Thanks to CFIB advocacy, the program has been extended from the original expiry date of October 31, 2020!), liquor manufacturers are allowed to deliver products directly to individual consumers from their registered off-site storage facilities in addition to their on-site stores. See government news release here. 

Support for agriculture and food/beverage producers: Applications are now closed.. The BC government is investing $300,000 to support farmers, ranchers, and food and beverage processors market their products as locally grown, raised, harvested or produced. The money is available to help agribusinesses sell their products online, direct to consumers across the province. The funding offers financial support to access and develop websites, online sales, the costs of marketing, and shipping products to consumers. 

 

Payment deferrals

The BC government introduced certain payment deferrals, however the due date to pay has now passed. For reference:

  • Liquor licenses: if your business has a liquor license, you were eligible to request your license renewal fee be deferred until September 30, 2020. Deferral requests now closed. 
  • Forestry sector: stumpage fees that were due in April, 2020 were deferred until end of July, 2020.

 

Continued funding for certain sectors: To support non-profits, service delivery agencies, and childcare providers, BC will continue to fund these agencies regardless of if they are open, closed or regular operations have been disrupted in any way. Licensed childcare providers staying open will receive enhanced funding to keep operations going. They will be eligible for seven times their average monthly operating funding from government.

 

Other Initiatives

Rent protection for commercial properties (now expired): On June 1, 2020 The BC government  announced eviction protection for small businesses. It is tied to the duration of the Federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. As the CECRA program has now ended, so has the ban on commercial evictions. 

     

     

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    To see the BC Government's webpage on new COVID-19 support initiatives for businesses, click here.

    For information on Federal and Provincial initiatives to support small business, please refer to this online guide provided by the Province of BC. 

     

    Financial Relief for employees & self-employed

    BC Emergency Benefit for Workers: The BC government has introduced a one-time, tax free payment of $1,000 to BC workers whose work has been affected by COVID-19. To be eligible, you must have been approved for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and have filed, or agree to file, a 2019 B.C. income tax return, along with other requirements. For a full list of eligibility details and to apply, please refer to the BC government webpage here
    How do I apply? The BC Emergency Benefit for Workers is a one-time payment that will be made in May 2020. Applications are open as of May 1, 2020.

     

    BC Climate Action Tax Credit: The BC government has enhanced payment of the BC Climate Action Tax Credit. They estimate 86% of families will see more money back in their pockets to a maximum of $218 for adults and $64 per child. Once you have filed tax returns, and are determined to be eligible for this, you will see the benefit. 
    How do I apply? The additional one-time payment will be made in July 2020 on top of the regular credit amount for qualifying individuals and families. You are eligible to receive the credit if you are a resident of BC, and you are 19 years or older, have a spouse or common-law partner, or are a parent who resides with your child. You will recieve the credit payment from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). For more information, click here.

    Provinicial Health Orders and Closures

    Click here to see all BC Governments Provincial Health Orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Should you have any questions about how any of the orders may impact your business, please call our Business Help Line at 1-888-234-2232.

     

    As of September 8, 2020, all banquet halls and nightclubs must close. See BC Government News Release here for detail.

     

    November 19, 2020 - current: Business Closure Order

    A new Order came into effect as of midnight, November 19, 2020. It effects several business sectors, please read carefully to see if your business is impacted. For the full list of details on the BC Government's website, please click here to visit the webpage. 

     

    Mask Mandate: masks are now mandatory in public indoor spaces and workplaces

    • The order applies to common areas in workplaces, including elevators and waiting rooms
    • People who cannot wear a mask or who cannot put on or remove a mask on their own are exempt
    • Employers are expected to enforce the mandatory mask policy with both employees and customers - in addition, a customer can be refused entry or service if they do not wear a mask

     

    Social Gatherings: social gatherings of any size are banned at residences with anyone other than your household and core bubble.

     

    Restaurant guidelines: additional requirements and clarity have been provided for restaurants.

    • Patrons must wear a mask when not at a table
    • Events are not allowed under the new order
    • Six person maximum at tables, no moving between tables of patrons

     

    BUSINESS CLOSURE - Group fitness activities: businesses who conduct high intensity group exercise must close

    • Includes (but not limited) to: hot yoga, spin classes, aerobics, HIIT, bootcamp
    • This closure order only applies to "high intensity" group exercise - low intensity group exercise can continue, this includes (but is not limited) to: yoga, pilates, light weightlifting, tai-chi, barre class
    • Individual workouts and personal training can continue

     

    Non-essential travel ban: while there is no Order outright banning travel, the PHO officer is asking British Columbians to limit travel to essential trips. The BC Government is also asking out-of-province visitors to postpone trips. 

     

     

    Q&As

    I am a restaurant owner - will the social gathering Order impact me?

    The new Order does not impact restaurants and rules have not changed. People can still meet up at restaurants so long as there are no more than 6 at a table. The social gathering limit applies to households.

     

    Do I have to screen my employees for COVID-19?

    Screening should already be included in every business’s existing COVID-19 safety plan; this could be done by someone asking workers as they arrive at the workplace, through an app, an online form, or through signage and messaging at the entrance to the workplace. For employers: the order does not require in-person assessment of every employee as they arrive at work. However, employers are required to ensure each employee is screened before every shift – this could include signing something upon arrival, having messaging posted at the entrance of the workplace (e.g. poster of symptoms that requires employees to not enter if they have symptoms).

     

    My employee(s) have to travel from outside of the region/between effected regions. Is that okay?

    Staying within regions is a recommendation, not an order. Yes, you can travel in and out of the health regions. If an employee needs to travel between regions, that is okay.

    WorkSafe BC & Provincial Services (e.g. utilities, insurance)

    WorkSafe BC

    • Your business was able to defer Q1 & Q2 payments for 2020 until October 20, 2020 (i.e. the date when Q3 payments are due). Please note that you will still be required to report your payroll by certain dates. Learn more here.
    • WorkSafeBC has waived premiums on furloughed workers of employers receiving the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). This is retroactive to March 15, 2020 and will last the entirety of the CEWS program.
    • WorkSafe BC has put together a guide for employers on preventing exposure of COVID-19 in the workplace. Read the guide here.
    • WorkSafe BC has complied health and safety information guides for many industries, including a small business guide. Read the guides here.

    Despite our consistent efforts urging the Minister of Labour not to, costly changes to the system at the height of the pandemic were made. To learn more about these changes and what they mean for your business, click here.

     

    Service BC 

    • Centres are remaining open for now. 
    • Vulnerable citizens (e.g. seniors and people with underlying health conditions) will receive priority service during the first hour of business. 
    • Call your local Service BC centre to make an appointment.

     

    BC Hydro

    The following announcement was made April 1, 2020. See the BC Government News Release here. We are awaiting on further details on definitions and necessary applications.

    • Small businesses that have been forced to close due to COVID-19 will have their power bills forgiven for three months, from April to June, 2020
    • BC Hydro is offering an option of a three-month deferment to larger businesses
    • Universal one per cent rate reduction for all customers starting April 1, 2020

    The following announcements have also been made by BC Hydro:

    • If you've fallen behind on bill payments we encourage you to set up a flexible, catch-up payment plan by calling our customer service team at 1 800 BCHYDRO (1 800 224 9376).

     

    ICBC

    • Deferrals have been extended to up to 90 days.
    • People dealing with job loss, illness, or loss of wages due to COVID-19 may now also qualify for BC Hydro’s Customer Crisis Fund grant program and receive up to $600.
    Employment Standards

    Temporary layoff period

    On May 4, 2020 the province initially extended the temporary layoff period during COVID-19 from 13 weeks to 16 weeks. The province further extended the temporary layoff period to 24 weeks, but this expired on Aug. 30, 2020.

    If your business needs to extend a temporary layoff beyond August 30, 2020 due to COVID-19 reasons, you will need to apply for an extension through a BC government portal. You will need to inform the employee of your intention to apply, and have at least 50% of employees effected agree to the extended layoff. You can visit the government portal by clicking here. 

     

    Other provisions

    On March 23, 2020 the BC Government introduced a new Bill to the Employment Standards Act, which entitles employees to:

    • 3 unpaid days of sick leave, provided they have been employed for 90 days
    • an unpaid leave of absence in relation to COVID-19 if the employee has or is: been diagnosed with COVID-19, in quarantine or self-isolation, the employer has directed the employee not to work due to concern of COVID-19 exposure, providing care to someone who is sick or is a child, or prevented from returning to BC because of travel restrictions

    Please note that an employee is not requires to provide a medical note to their employer to take COVID-19 leave. However, as an employer you are allowed to ask the employee to provide reasonable evidence. This new protective leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020.

     

     

    What is CFIB doing?

    While this is a good start, we know there is much more the BC government can do to support your business. We are asking the government to: 

    Provide liquidity from fixed business costs
    • Suspend B.C. Hydro billing for a period of three to six months for businesses of all size
    • Cover property taxes for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis (a minimum of 25 percent overall reduction in annual property tax, including Class 1, 4, 5, and 6, for commercial property owners and owners of purpose-built rental with 3 or more units). Relief should be passed onto commercial tenants by landlords.
    • Temporary eviction restrictions for commercial tenants and provide guidance to commercial tenants and landlords on writing agreements to cover the COVID-19 crisis period. Success! On June 1, 2020 the BC Government introduced temporary eviction protection for businesses. See provincial News Release here.
    • Government should provide additional COVID-19 crisis assistance to cover fixed costs as circumstances warrant
    • Create a hardship fund with additional emergency money for businesses with significant revenue losses, significant cost increases and/or who are at risk of permanent closure due to COVID-19 (up to $5,000 per month for 3 months) to help small businesses pay rent and offset other fixed costs. Priority should be given to businesses that were forced to close and those not covered by federal programs.

    On March 30, 2020 CFIB provided recommendations for federal and provincial action in this area. See our News Release here.

    Revise employment measures
    • Ensure that employment standards cover the COVID-19 period, work with federal programs, and do not inadvertently create additional costs and stress for employers. If an employer cannot top up the 75 percent federal wage subsidy to 100 percent, that should not be considered constructive dismissal for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Success! On May 4, 2020, the BC government extended the temporary layoff period from 13 weeks in any 20-week period to 16 weeks, when the temporary layoff is due to COVID-19 related reasons.
    • Provide an on-line training grant to individuals idled as a result of COVID-19. This has the benefit of making use of downtime to enhance skill sets that will contribute to B.C.’s economic recovery once the current crisis abates.
    • Create some additional assurance for businesses, such as a new form of unpaid leave, e.g. A Public Health Emergency Leave. It should cover the period of disruption due to COVID-19 and clarify employers will not be subject to constructive dismissal claims that meet the criteria of a COVID-related layoff. The allowance for “unforeseen circumstances” under the Employment Standards Act likely provides the basis for such leaves, but the business community requires legal certainty on this matter. 
    Offer tax relief
    • Suspend collection of the Employers Health Tax for six months. Success! EHT payments deferred until September 30, 2020, along with other provincial taxes. As the new date to file and pay approaches quickly, we must recognize that business is not as usual. That's why we are continue to push the provincial government to make additional changes. We are asking the province to consider forgiving a portion of these taxes, or at the very least defer them for another 6 months and re-evaluate business' ability to pay them. Forcing businesses further into debt is not a viable option, which is why it is a priority to have the due date for these deferred taxes pushed forward. 
    • Suspend WorkSafeBC premium collection for six months.Q1 payments have been deferred until June 30, 2020, and Q2 payments have been deferred until October 20, 2020. See WCB News Release here.
    Prompt government payment to vendors

    Expedite payments to vendors owed by the provincial government and its Agencies, Boards and Commissions. For example, the provincial government was recently apprised of lagging payments to contractors working on the Site C Clean Energy project. Concerted provincial government efforts to expedite payments for services rendered are a tangible way that government and its statutory bodies can assist with acute cash flow issues being faced by many B.C. businesses.

    Do not add to the regulatory burden

    Suspend any new regulatory, policy and legislative initiatives and related consultations until further notice and ensure that any measures in the “policy pipeline” support economic resiliency and post-crisis economic recovery effort.

    FAQ on COVID-19

    We’re dedicated to supporting your business through this difficult time by compiling answers to the most common COVID-19 questions and keeping you up to date on the latest relief measures from the federal government. Visit our Small Business Help Center to learn more.