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COVID-19: Northwest Territories Reopening Frequently Asked Questions

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Reopening the economy

When is the start of the first phase of reopening the economy in NWT?

The NWT government entered Phase 1 of it’s reopening plan, Emerging Wisely, on May 15, 2020.

Which sectors in NWT are currently allowed to open?

Below is a list of businesses that are allowed to reopen as part of Phase 1. For any clarification, please refer to page 4 of the NWT government’s Public Health Order on relaxing phase 1.

  • Personal services, museums, art galleries, bottle depots, personal training at gyms, and fitness centers allowed to open with capacity and other restrictions in place
  • Tourism operators using their experiences for “staycations” (i.e. only for local residents)
  • Shuttle buses
  • Community gardens, gun ranges, golf courses, beaches, boat launches, baseball and softball, outdoor soccer, outdoor ultimate frisbee, cricket, outdoor summer camps
  • Park day-use areas and cook shelters, indoor fields and community gyms, and libraries are still being considered
  • Schools (except colleges, adult learning, and trade schools) may open with capacity and other restrictions in place
  • Specific types of mass gatherings will be allowed with capacity and other restrictions in place. For example: farmer’s markets, some recreational facilities, libraries, golf courses, beaches, boat launches, and playgrounds.
Are there any fines for opening my business, if it is not considered essential or if it has not been reopened by government?

Rules and requirements that are the law, and therefore legally enforceable. If someone violates an order, they may be charged. Charges under the Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA) may include fines up to $500, up to 6 months in prison, or both. Charges under the Public Health and Safety Act (PHSA) may include fines of up to $5,000/day.

Employment Standards Act

My business can be open, how do I re-call my employees?

Provide employee with as much notice as you can. You can send a registered letter to your employee letting them know the date of their next shift, hours, along with any relevant information they need such as a contact person they can reach out to, like a supervisor, if they have any questions or concerns.

My business is financially unstable, can I reduce my employees’ wages when they return to work?

You are required to give proper notice to employees prior to changing any terms and conditions, such as reducing working hours, pay or entitlements that you have promised in a job description or letter of offer. Any drastic changes to an employee agreement can cause an employee to file a constructive dismissal claim to the Ministry of Labour. A Ministry of Labour inspector will investigate the claim. Please contact your Business Resources department for further details.

Does my employee qualify for the Easter Holiday pay, even when they when they weren’t scheduled to work due to COVID-19?

All employees, unless they are part of the Employment Standards Special Rule exemption, are eligible for Public Holiday Pay, as long as the employee worked their scheduled shift before the holiday and scheduled shift after the holiday, as per the “Last and First Rule”. Employees may also be entitled to holiday pay if they were not scheduled for the holiday shift or did perform duties on same day.

Can my employee take any leave under the Employment Standards Act?

Depending on an employee’s situation, they may be entitled to another leave under the NWT Employment Standards Act such as:

  • Sick leave
  • Family Violence Leave
  • Compassionate leave
  • Bereavement Leave and Court Leave
  • Family Caregiver Leave
Can I layoff an employee temporarily?

Under the NWT Employment Standards Act, Temporary layoff is an interruption of the employment of an employee by an employer. Temporary layoffs must be given to an employee in writing, and indicate the expected date on which the employer will request the employee to return to work. A temporary layoff must not exceed 45 days during a period of 60 consecutive days. If the temporary layoff has exceeded 45 days during a period of 60 consecutive days, the last day of the temporary layoff will be deemed as their termination date, and must be paid termination pay.

I am considering terminating my employee at this time, what should I know?

Written termination notice is required after the employee has worked 90 days or more. The termination date must be at least two weeks plus one additional week for each year of employment over two years (to a maximum of eight weeks) after written termination notice is given. For details on how much pay in lieu is required, please speak with your Business Resources team. While terminating an employee may seem like the only option, please also consider speaking with your Business Resources team as this can be a sensitive time to make this decision.

My employee has decided to resign, what should I do?

If the employee has decided to part ways, the employee should give you a letter of resignation for your records.

Occupational Health and Safety

What are my employee’s health and safety rights, in relation to COVID-19?

It is the responsibility of all employers to ensure a healthy and safe workplace under the Safety Act and OHS Regulations. That responsibility has not changed. WSCC requires businesses to implement an Exposure Control Plan to determine the worker risk of exposure to the virus, inform workers of their risk while at the worksite, and outline how you the employer will manage to eliminate or reduce those risks. You do not need to submit your completed Exposure Control Plan to WSCC, however, you must keep the safety plan up to date and be able to present it if asked to do so by WSCC Inspectors. You must also complete a Risk Assessment and Worksite Precautions form. Any employee who visits a jobsite away from the office (e.g. delivery goods, providing services at a worksite owned by a different business, providing essential services at someone’s home) must complete a Field Level Risk Assessment before work beings at a jobsite.

What should I have in my workplace to maintain a safe environment?

Have an Exposure Control Plan in place, and complete a Risk Assessment and Worksite Precautions form.  Keep these documents up to date. In addition, it is recommended you as an employer:

  • Enforce safe spacing measures in the workplace.
  • Encourage and support employees to work from home, if possible.
  • Undertake routine environmental cleaning.
  • Promote respiratory etiquette.
  • Promote regular hand-washing.
  • Encourage and support staff to stay home when they are ill.

Along with creating preventative measures for your business, you should also aim to comply with current Occupational Health and Safety rules, such as having a violence and harassment policy and program, as well as health and safety policy and training your employees on Health and Safety Awareness.

My employee feels ill, do I have to send them home?

If your employee is ill, the employee must be sent home and you should contact your employee remotely to advise them to complete the online COVID-19 assessment, and call family physician or NWT telehealth 1-867-767-9054. You should create a list of their whereabouts in the workplace, including but not limited to: the washroom, workstations, lunchroom, and equipment used so that you can assign a staff member to disinfect areas. If possible, also compile a list of staff they worked with during their shift.

What if I find out my employee has been exposed to COVID-19 at work, who do I notify?

If an employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they must go or stay home and:

If an employee believes they have contracted COVID-19 as a direct result from employment, WSCC recommends they contact 1-800-661-0792, or email their Claims Department with a completed Worker’s Report of Injury. WSCC will then determine whether the claim is related to work, and if so, what benefits will be provided based on that unique circumstance.

What if my employees are refusing work due to COVID-19 concerns?

Employees have the right to refuse working under what they consider unsafe environment. If this is the case, remind your employees of the preventive measures that have put in place, and the safety products available to them. Communicate to the employee that their safety is your priority.

You may choose to reassign work, perhaps allowing them to work from home. In this case, the employee must receive the same wages and benefits as they would have received under their previous assignment. There is a work refusal process, which may include calling the Ministry of Labour’s OHSA inspector to ensure safety of employee and confirm if your preventative measures are up to the standards. Please contact us for further details on this topic.

Can I hire a replacement to an employee on a leave?

You can hire temporary employees to replace employees that are unable to return. When hiring temporary staff, provide them with a contract that details their terms and conditions – as well as a termination date as this serves as the formal termination date.

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