On May 25, 2021, BC’s COVID-19 “circuit breaker” measures officially expired as Premier John Horgan announced the government’s new four-step plan aimed toward returning to pre-pandemic life: “BC’s Restart”. Although tentative dates were set for each step of BC’s Restart, actually progressing to each next step is dependant on declining COVID-19 case counts and an increase of the population vaccinated with dose one.
The details of each of the four steps of BC’s Restart, including the implications for employers and workplaces, are summarized below:
Step 1: Began May 25, 2021. Employers must continue to have a COVID-19 Safety Plan and daily health check in place, but may start a gradual return to the workplace. Indoor dining is open once again, with a group of up to six. Personal gatherings are allowed of up to ten people outdoors and five visitors (or one other household) indoors. Seated organized gatherings with COVID-19 Safety Plans can commence with up to 50 people outdoors and ten people indoors. Recreational travel is permitted within travel regions only, with the ban on inter-regional travel continuing. Indoor low intensity group exercise as well as outdoor games and practices are now allowed.
Step 2: Earliest start date June 15. There is a continued return to the workplace, and small in-person meetings are now allowed. Personal gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted. The capacity of indoor organized gatherings with a COVID-19 Safety Plan is expanded to 50 people. Provincial travel restrictions are lifted, as recreational travel within BC is opened. Indoor high intensity group exercise is permitted as well as indoor games/practices. Up to 50 spectators for outdoor sports are allowed. Liquor may be served until midnight, and banquet halls can operate (with limited capacity and a COVID-19 Safety Plan).
Step 3: Earliest start date July 1. There is a continued return to the workplace, with seminars and larger meetings now permitted. Businesses and workplaces must operate based on a new sector COVID-19 Safety Plan. Importantly, masks are no longer mandated but only recommended in public indoor settings. There is no longer a limit to the size of personal gatherings, and there is an increased capacity at both indoor and outdoor organized gatherings with COVID-19 Safety Plans (such as festivals). Canada-wide recreational travel is permitted. All indoor fitness classes are allowed, as well as limited indoor sport spectators. There is no limit for indoor or outdoor dining, liquor service restrictions are lifted and businesses such as casinos and nightclubs may operate with limited capacity.
Step 4: Earliest start date September 7. Workplaces are fully reopened. Businesses continue to operate based on the new COVID-19 safety guidelines and updated COVID-19 Safety Plans. Masks are now a personal choice. There is an increased capacity at large organized gatherings (e.g., concerts) as well as increased outdoor and indoor sports spectators.
The government has not yet detailed what “new sector COVID-19 Safety Plans” will entail for employers, although we anticipate more information to be released as BC approaches Step 3. Employers should also note the start of Step 3 as the date when masks will no longer be mandated in public indoor settings, but still recommended. The lifting of the mask mandate could bring potential challenges for employers, who will continue to have the duty to protect the health and safety of all its workers including to protect workers against COVID-19 in the workplace.
Notably, each step of BC’s Restart requires that anyone feeling sick stay at home and get tested for COVID-19 immediately. For employers, this means continuing to comply with the recently enacted amendments to the Employment Standards Act, which provide up to three days of paid COVID-19 sick leave to all BC employees. Employers must similarly provide all employees with up to three hours of paid leave to receive each dose of their COVID-19 vaccine.
The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving with new measures being adopted or modified at both the federal and provincial level.