COVID-19: the government is tightening restrictions; how will this impact employers?

On January 6, 2021, the Quebec government announced that it would be extending its holiday season lockdown measures and imposing new, tighter restrictions. As the spread of COVID-19 is still unabated, the decision was made to extend the lockdown for a period from January 9 to February 8, 2021, inclusive.

Needless to say, this reminds us of the situation in March 2020, when it was decided to close all businesses and retail outlets in Quebec, except for essential services, for an initial period of three weeks. These closures were eventually extended until the month of May.

While we expect more details on these measures in the coming days—particularly when the government publishes the order-in-council renewing the state of health emergency and related ministerial orders—here is an overview of the restrictions that will affect Quebec businesses and that will come into effect as of January 9, 2021:

  • all non-essential businesses will remain closed until February 8, but curbside pick-up will be allowed;
  • grocery and convenience stores will have to close at 7:30 p.m. Only pharmacies and gas stations will be allowed to remain open after 8:00 p.m.;
  • there will be a general curfew between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless the individual is outside his/her home for work related reasons—the government has published a form “Attestation de l’employeur – Déplacement durant le couvre-feu décrété par le gouvernement du Québec” (available in French only) to be presented to the police by any employee having to be outside his/her home for professional reasons during curfew hours. This form is available through this link: https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/2019-coronavirus/confinement-in-quebec/#c81010;
  • mandatory work from home for businesses that remain open;
  • reopening of primary schools on January 11, as initially planned;
  • reopening of secondary schools on January 18, with measures still in place and distribution of procedural masks to students;
  • daycare centres for preschoolers remain open.

In practical terms, what this means for Quebec businesses is that the situation they experienced during the holiday season will continue for another four weeks, in addition to the new curfew restrictions. The authorities also indicated that the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) would be called upon to ensure that all workplaces, regardless of sector, apply health measures more consistently. We advise you to make sure that health measures are enforced, as CNESST inspectors will be making their presence known.

We suggest that employers provide employees having to be outside their home for professional reasons during curfew hours with the letter proposed by the government mentioned above. If questioned during a police check, these employees will find it easier to demonstrate that their trip is related to their job and thus avoid fines between $1,000 and $6,000.

Finally, while many had feared a new closure of the manufacturing and construction sector as in the spring of 2020, it is interesting to note that these sectors will be able to continue to operate. However, the authorities are asking them to postpone production or construction of what is not “essential” without specifying, for the time being at least, what is essential and what is not.

We will, of course, follow with interest the developments related to these announcements. Do not hesitate to contact a member of our team if you have any questions regarding the application or effects of the new lockdown restrictions on your business.

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