Coronavirus Response Plan for Canadian Small Businesses

In response to the coronavirus here is everything you need to know as a small business owner.

Team Management

I. HR Guide to Coronavirus Response for Canadian Small Business: Everything you need to know as a small business owner.

A. Leadership: Creating and Following a Policy

B. Health and Safety Policies Inside the Workplace During the COVID-19 Outbreak

  1. Access to accurate information about the coronavirus
  2. Clear workplace policies in response to the pandemic
  3. Remote work / work from home policies when possible

C. COVID-19s Economic Impact and You

  1. How to Prepare Your Business
  2. How Your Employees Can Prepare

Note: The below guide is intended as a general resource only, and does not constitute legal advice or council.

On March 11th, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Throughout Canada, swift measures have been implemented to contain the spread of the virus, including public school closures, cancellations of gatherings with 250+ people, and recommendations to practice social distancing. In the coming weeks, Canadians may experience further measures aimed at halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, which may include everything from more aggressive testing to strict travel restrictions.

In light of the outbreak, Canadian small businesses are already feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, with many wondering how to best prepare for both the short and long-term effects.

In addition to Canada’s response to the public health crisis, businesses are bracing themselves for the economic impact, as Finance Minister Morneau has already acknowledged that the coronavirus will have significant impact Canada’s economy.

Below you will find a Coronavirus Response Preparedness Guide for Canadian Small Businesses, which outlines some of the most important things you need to consider as a small business owner facing the outbreak in Canada.

What are your responsibilities to your employees? What measures should you put in place to help halt the spread? What economic impact should you anticipate, and how should you be preparing your business?

Business Leadership During the Coronavirus Outbreak

While this may be obvious to some, it’s important to not let it go unmentioned:

Strong leadership is especially important during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Small businesses may be hit especially hard by the economic fallout. 

You will face uncertainty, and it may be tempting to delay communicating anything to your employees until more information surfaces, or until the Government of Canada provides additional instruction.

You shouldn’t delay.

Chances are, your staff are already asking themselves:

“is my or my community’s safety compromised?”

“will I experience interruptions in pay?”; and

“what should I be doing to prepare for the future?”

Even if you do not have concrete answers to every potential question, it’s important to at least make it explicit that you are not ignoring the problem and acknowledge the impact it will have, that you are accessible and available for any questions, and that you are preparing for contingencies

Not only does this give your employees more context and confidence in a challenging situation — it also helps you avoid operating in the dark, and may lead to better outcomes.

That said, there are some things you can consciously do and some questions you can answer. 

We’re providing them below: 

How to Mitigate COVID-19’s Health Risks In Your Small Business

Depending on the nature of your business, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risks of contributing to COVID-19 spread, both inside and outside the workplace.

The global strategy for halting the spread of coronavirus is to “flatten the curve.”

While we know that the coronavirus will continue to spread in the short term, we also know that if we can stop the rate at which it spreads, we can also diminish both the toll to global health, ensure that our healthcare system can continue to function, and minimize the extent and timeline of the pandemic’s negative economic impact.

Health and Safety Policies Inside the Workplace During COVID-19 Outbreak

Helping stop the spread means ensuring three things within the workplace:

  1. Access to accurate information about the coronavirus
  2. Clear workplace policies in response to the pandemic
  3. Remote work / work from home policies when possible

Access to accurate information about the coronavirus

There are a few places you should be checking regularly when it comes to updates and information about COVID-19.

First, the Canadian Government provides constant COVID-19 updates on their website, on a country-wide and a province-by-province basis. This should always be your primary source for updates and latest information regarding the Canadian Government’s response to the novel coronavirus. Provincial governments are also reporting and posting daily updates about the status of COVID-19 on their respective websites. You can every province and territory-specific coronavirus updates here:

Second, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers resources about preventing the spread, including an infographic on preventing the spread, as well as a free Pandemic Awareness course to help familiarize with how the virus is transmitted.

You can also find additional credible information from the Centres for Disease Control website Here 

It is also important to have accurate information about the virus itself, and understand what the Canadian Government is reporting about the symptoms. Currently it is understood that symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear, and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pneumonia in both lungs

Those who have recently travelled to a high-infection area, or have been in close contact with someone who has, are considered to be highest risk.

At the time of writing, the Canadian government has issued a Level 3 travel notice, advising individuals to avoid all non-essential travel to all countries.

Clear workplace policies in response to the pandemic

Once you have familiarized yourself with the most accurate and up-to-date information, it’s crucial to outline and communicate clear policies to all of your employees.

Depending on the nature of your business, different policies and procedures may be more applicable. It’s very important that you take a very serious approach to health and safety policies, lead by example, and be fully insistent that all employees follow the safety measures.

Here’s what you’ll want to include in your preventative measures plan, which should ideally consist of both a live presentation, as well as disseminated in a written form that employees can refer to:

  1. Make sure all employees understand COVID-19’s effects and symptoms
  2. Make sure all employees have easy access to hand-washing and disinfectant stations
  3. Make sure all employees practice preventative measures, which include:
  4. Washing hands regularly, with hot water, for a minimum of 20 seconds at a time
  5. Avoiding touching the face at all times
  6. Avoiding directly touching surfaces and high-volume areas such as door handles whenever possible
  7. Continuously disinfecting surfaces, door handles, and any common areas
  8. Covering any coughs or sneezes with a tissue and throwing it in the trash
  9. Maintaining social distancing (3 feet) from other individuals as much as possible
  10. Where applicable, employees should wear protective gear such as latex gloves, especially if they work in high-traffic areas
  11. Any employees showing symptoms, even mild ones, should be advised to self-isolate and contact a local health unit.

Self-isolation and symptom monitoring for at least 14 days is also advised for:

  1. Any employees who have recently traveled from high-impact areas
  2. Any employees who have been in contact with someone who has been exposed to COVID-19

Additional Considerations:

In addition to the above policies, you should take into account what other legislation applies to your business.

For instance, employer’s have certain responsibilities under the Labor Canada Code. For any employees that face a risk of exposure to COVID-19, the employer is responsible for:

  • Identifying the risk
  • Assessing the risk, and
  • Implementing proper controls through their Hazard Prevention Program

When communicating to your employees, you must remember that some of them may be immunocompromised without you being aware of this. These individuals would face increased risk if they were to contract COVID-19, therefore you should make sure you assess risks accordingly.

Furthermore, the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Act, broadly speaking, entitles workers to three rights:

  1. The right to know about health and safety matters.
  2. The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
  3. The right to refuse work that could affect their health and safety and that of others.

Since the details of the OH&S legislation may vary based on jurisdiction, you will want to consult your specific jurisdiction — you can find the full list of OH&S jurisdictions here, as well as their contact information for inquiries. 

Remote work / work from home policies when possible

If the nature of your business allows, you should strongly consider adopting a Remote Work culture for the duration of the pandemic to help slow the spread.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to implement remote work for your organization, or are unsure exactly how to implement it, there are a lot of free resources that can help you get up to speed.

This Remote Work Guide from Superside will cover a lot of questions on how to stay fully productive with your workforce going remote.

In addition to finding guidance for a great Remote Work policy, you may want to look at some of the tools that make it much easier to implement remote work practices in your business.

Here are 5 tools that are either free or low-cost, and can help you take your team remote for the duration of the outbreak:

  1. Slack for instant messaging
  2. GSuite for cloud collaboration and document storage
  3. Zoom for video conferencing
  4. Clockify for project and time tracking
  5. Loom for sharing screen recordings

Preparing Your Small Business for COVID-19s Economic Impact

It’s no secret that the coronavirus will have a significant impact on the global economy, including Canada. From disrupted supply chains, to event closures and flight cancellations — we have already seen the market plunge, and multiple banks including RBC are predicting a recession.

Whether you’re already experiencing a revenue slump, or are gearing up and hoping to get ahead of it, you’ll find a few suggestions on how you can soften the impact both for your business and your employees.

How to Prepare Your Business

Unless your business falls within one of a handful that benefit from an increasingly remote workforce and social distancing, you should be anticipating and preparing for significant disruptions. Keep in mind that we are hearing recommendations that citizens stop going out for all non-essential reasons altogether, and Canadian CEOs are calling for action in stopping the spread of COVID-19, even while acknowledging the negative economic impact it will have.

It would be wise to at least estimate the potential impact on your own business sooner than later, while keeping in mind that eventually this crisis will also subside and things return to normal function. While it is difficult to estimate exactly how long the crisis will last, locally it’s plausible to contain COVID-19 in as little as a few months, while around the globe some estimates anticipate the crisis to extend into 2021. As a business, your contingency plans should try to take both of those timelines into account.

If facing a prolonged downturn, businesses can approach the Government of Canada for help before making more difficult choices.

The Work Sharing Program is a public assistance program for businesses. It aims to prevent or minimize layoffs in cases when businesses experience lower-than-normal business activities for reasons outside of the businesses control, and outside the regular seasonal fluctuations. In direct response to COVID-19, the Canadian Government has recently expanded the program.

If your business will see a drop in business activity around at least 10% as a result of COVID-19, you should apply sooner than later. This will require a join application with both you and your employees, and the application must be submitted at least 30 days prior to its start date.

How Your Employees Can Prepare

Finally, depending on your business there is a chance that some employees will end up experiencing interruptions in earnings. As this may weigh heavily on many of your employee’s minds, it is best to communicate options and plan accordingly early on. While this may be a trying time for everyone, if you’re expecting for business to slow down, it may be best to instruct your employees to prepare for it sooner rather than later. After all, once things return to normal operations, you would want those skilled employees returning to the same place of work.

If interruptions in earnings end up inevitable, make sure you follow best practices, and make sure your employees are aware of the full extend of options available to them.

First, issue a Record of Employment (ROE) within 5 business days of an interruption in earnings. This will allow your employees to promptly apply for Employment Insurance (EI). Depending on the situation, their application process may be expedited. 

In response to the economic impact of COVID-19, the Government of Canada has made it easier for affected Canadians to receive assistance. As part of these changes to EI, the one week waiting period has been waived for those in quarantine.

Beyond The Basics of The Response

In the long run, it’s important to stay vigilant and prepare your business for multiple contingencies.

Beyond that, it’s crucial to make peace with the fact that your business is likely to face significant disruptions as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Things will return to normal function eventually — in the meantime the way out is through patience, through putting people first, and finding whatever innovation possible during a challenging time.