A National Guide for Business
Businesses have a critical role to play before mass vaccination is completed. This toolkit provides practical guidance for businesses to re-establish their operations while ensuring the health and safety of staff and customers.
The advice provided is intended to be adaptable for companies needing, or desiring, to bring employees back into physical locations for collaboration or enhancing productivity. At the core of successfully executing a return to workplace plan is building trust through transparency and communication. It is likewise important for leaders to build a culture of safety and lead by example to set the tone for the rest of the office. You will find numerous practical tips in this toolkit.
To access a full range of case studies, templates and samples to support your recovery planning, click here.
There you will find:
- PPE – Masking benefits poster, mask dispenser, and travel pack idea
- Workplace Layout – Visual of various workplace layouts and COVID-19 safety plan examples
- Workplace Screening and Rapid testing – Template attendance log, visitor screening questionnaire, COVID-19 symptoms screen questionnaire, and visual example of temperature checker
- What to do When a Positive Case Occurs – Examples and templates of how to factually report a positive case in the workplace. Includes a how-to disinfection guide.
- Additional Resources – Case studies of SME infection prevention and control program.
To access and download a full PDF version of our Workplace Recovery Toolkit please click here.
National Reopening Government Regulation Tracker
In order to operate, businesses must abide by all national, provincial/territorial and local codes issued by our governments. This includes when and which businesses are allowed to open, an array of health and safety measures, social distancing standards, occupancy limits and more.
The new rules will inform how your operations and health and safety standards must be adapted to the current situation.
Due to ongoing changes in the regulatory landscape, please find current information on this dedicated regulation tracking page.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Reopening the economy — and keeping it open — hinges on our collective ability to maintain the health and safety for our staff and customers. If we are unable to succeed in this objective, governments will continue to be in the cycle of ordering business closures. Measures surrounding the use of PPE — including what types are required, when it is needed, how to use it — should be included in your health and safety plan. Business operators should build a culture of safety, and that begins with ensuring all leaders and employees are using the proper PPE for your setting. The types of PPE your business requires will depend on a variety of situations (e.g., office, storefront, manufacturing, indoor vs. outdoor conditions).
Workplace Layout and Operations
Introducing a new workplace layout is one of the most important considerations a business must make before reopening. It is important to keep track of any changing requirements between different phases or zones of lockdowns. When arranging your new layout, there are several things to consider.
- Space out workers: Ensure there is at least six feet between workstations or stagger desks where possible. Consider adding screens or cubicle walls between desks to help prevent the spread of the virus. If your business is responsible for washroom areas, consider closing every other stall and taping off every other sink to maintain distancing.
- Physical barriers: If distancing is not physically possible, ensure you have stringent screening measures in place, increased handwashing procedures and signage and additional PPE where possible.
- Room capacities: Each room should have a capacity limit sign on the door that states the maximum capacity, limited to the number of people who can be in the room seated two metres apart.
- Distancing markers: Ensure there are stand markers at least six feet apart indicating where customers can stand or where employees must wait. This is important for high-traffic areas such as entrances, lobbies, check-out areas, delivery zones, office common areas (kitchen, boardroom, washroom), etc. Consider adding additional space for seating areas, particularly if customers or workers will be eating in this space with their masks off.
Operating Tactics: Eating at Work
Lunchrooms: Any time you are with other people in close proximity without wearing a mask is considered high risk. Space out tables two feet from each other. Have everyone face in one direction. If you have communal tables, remove chairs so people are separated and place a moveable partition between people. Partitions can be Plexiglas, or as simple as clear flexible plastic or even cardboard. The height and length should cover the exhale area.
Buffet cafeterias: Convert any buffet service to pre-packed meal service. Have people move in one direction.
Timing: Stagger arrival times, departure times and lunch times.
Smoking areas: An often-overlooked high-transmission area. Space out ashbins, add distance markers and remind staff of the risk.
- HVAC updates: Consider setting the HVAC unit to “always on” instead of “automatic” to ensure continuous air circulation during work hours. This will only increase your utility bill a few dollars a day or around 5%, based on “always on” for 16 hours a day.
- Filters: Check your HVAC filters and ensure you have at least MERV Level 10 or up to Level 13 installed, depending on the strength of your HVAC unit. This is a cost-effective measure, with filters for as little as $13 per unit.
- Duct cleaning: Get your air ducts professionally cleaned. COVID-19 particles are more likely to linger when they are covered in dust.
- Rest areas: For staff rest areas where workers cannot wear masks (e.g., eating), consider installing portable HEPA air filters near the doors and away from seating areas.
- Circulation: Opening windows is always a natural way to help improve air circulation in any space.
- Increase sanitization of high-touch areas: Ensure high-touch areas like doorknobs, credit/debit terminals, keyboards, cupboards, drawers, windows, light switches, elevator buttons and others are regularly sanitized.
- Additional cleaning services: Consider investing in increased professional cleaning services to help provide an additional layer of protection.
- Provide hand sanitizer: Ensure there is an ample amount of hand sanitizer available.
Considerations for customer-facing environments
- Masks: Enforce mask wearing for all customers and ensure you have extra masks on hand.
- Point of sale: Make sure your debit/credit terminal machines are facing towards the customer, additional screens/barriers are installed between customers and staff and that employees are sanitizing the space and any touched products between each customer. Debit/credit terminals can be wrapped with clear thick plastic to allow for disinfecting without damaging the equipment.
- Sanitization: Ensure frequent sanitization for high-touch areas including shopping baskets, door handles, credit/debit terminals, credit/debit terminals, etc.
- Distancing: Ensure at least six feet of distance between seating areas and either remove or block off extra seating areas to help preserve the distance. In addition, consider screens or barriers between tables or booths in eating areas for additional protection when the customer is not wearing a mask.
- Stand markers: Ensure there are clearly indicated stand markers for areas where line-ups occur.
- Restrooms: If your business has public restrooms, consider closing every other stall and taping off every other sink to maintain distancing.
- Capacity limits: There are several apps available now to help enable counting customers upon entry and exit, such as Customer Counter or Count Me In. Personal service businesses can manage headcount by appointment only.
Dealing with anti-maskers
Despite broad adoption of masks, there are still anti-maskers who approach businesses to make a statement. They cause a disturbance and sometimes film the incident to post on social media. From the initial interactions, anti-maskers are easily differentiated from those who are unable to wear a mask for health reasons. Operators are in their full right to protect their employees and customers on their private property.
Employees should politely remind the customer that masks are required in the workplace/store and offer free single-use masks; point the customer to online shopping or take out; or offer to complete the shopping for the person while they wait outside. If all options are rejected, firmly establish that legally, requiring mask wearing is not a violation of human rights. Operators are in their full right to protect their employees and customers on their private property and call always call the police.
Employees who refuse to wear a mask at work should face disciplinary action. Wearing a mask is now considered a mandatory personal protective equipment and, thus, treated with the same enforcement as other PPE such as steel-toed shoes and hard hats.
Workplace Screening and Rapid Testing
As rapid test kits become more widely available, businesses should consider what an appropriate deployment looks like in their physical environment.
Several resources exist on how to source and implement full-scale rapid testing in your workplace, including “how-to” guides for testing from the Creative Destruction Lab Rapid Screening Consortium and the Communitech StaySafeTM at work toolkit.
What to do when a positive case occurs?
Despite best efforts, positive cases do occur in the workplace. It is important to have a response plan that includes communications protocols with employees and, if applicable, the public. Section V of our toolkit discusses how to respond.
For the full scope of our workplace screening and rapid testing recommendations, please view Section IV and V of our Workplace Recovery Toolkit, here.
Communications amidst Reopening
Communications is always important to ensure your staff, customers, suppliers and the general public understand the situation, what your business has to offer and what to expect from your business. This is especially true during times of crisis when there is a great deal of uncertainty.
This section of the toolkit provides guidance, examples and access to ready-made posters and graphics as well as a template you can customize for your own needs.
This advice contained in this section will likely need to be customized for your specific operation.
A Communications Guide
The goals of your communications activities are:
- To ensure your staff, customers and suppliers have a clear understanding of the situation and rules that are in place.
- To explain the roles, responsibilities and procedures your staff, customers and suppliers must abide by.
- To provide confidence that your business is being safely operated.
Your audiences for these communications are:
- Your staff, including volunteers and family members lending a hand.
- Your customers.
- Your suppliers, including couriers and other delivery services.
Depending on the nature of your business, you likely have numerous communications channels at your disposal to convey the required information, including:
- A staff email list and phone numbers.
- A customer email list or newsletter.
- A supplier email list and phone numbers.
- Direct mail or unaddressed ad mail.
- Social media.
- Traditional paid advertising (billboards, newspaper, TV, radio, etc.)
- Space inside or around your business for signage.
For internal communications with your staff, consider sending an email outlining:
- The procedures they will need to follow.
- How they can respond to questions from customers and suppliers.
- How they can address customers and suppliers who may not be following the health and safety procedures.
- How they can participate in ensuring a safe environment for staff, customers and suppliers alike.
In addition to the email, it may also be advisable to conduct a teleconference or video conference with staff prior to their arrival on site in order to provide additional re-orientation and address any questions or concerns they may have, including about proper PPE usage. When onsite, conduct a walk-through with staff and highlight any changes from previous operations.
Finally, signage/posters in staff areas of your business can provide guidance and reminders related to proper hygiene, social distancing and PPE usage. Template and ready-made posters are provided below.
For external communications with customers and suppliers, much of the same health and safety information and procedural instructions must be conveyed. In your communications with customers, consider being proactive in an email or newsletter and on your website and social media ahead of your reopening.
Tell customers and suppliers:
- When you will be reopening.
- Your hours of operation.
- The rules they will need to follow and any impacts this may have on your services.
Providing clear expectations and practical instructions ahead of time will help ensure everyone is on the same page, avoid disappointment if there are some service disruptions and help enable smooth operations.
Additional signage/posters in your business are also important to ensure everyone onsite has important information readily available about procedures (for example, where to form socially distant lines at the checkout counter) and health and safety protections (such as the use of PPE, hand sanitizer stations and social distancing). Remember that not everyone visiting your operation will have seen your proactive communications.
If you have the budget and/or capacity, consider also including this information in any flyers or print advertising your business is using.
As the pandemic continues and the rules in place change, follow-up communications with staff, customers and suppliers will likely be required through the same channels outlined above. Additionally, it may be helpful to provide a Q&A or Frequently Asked Questions document, if you find you or your staff are regularly being asked similar questions as the situation carries on.
Above all, work to ensure your staff, customers and suppliers are informed about what is going on and how they can contribute to a successful outcome. It is important for everyone to be aware that we are all in this together.
Template and Ready-made Signage
Making use of clear, highly visible signage within your business to promote good health and safety practices is important to providing a safe environment for your staff, your customers, your suppliers and yourself. It is likely appropriate to post signage in both staff and public areas to ensure everyone onsite is aware of important health and safety information in all areas of your facility.
Signage may also be used to help explain procedures that are in place to allow your business to operate amid COVID-19, including basic information such as the location of hand sanitizer stations, where to form lines and reminders to respect social distancing measures.
In posting signage, it is good to remember to ensure signs:
- Provide clear information using straightforward language.
- Are easily legible.
- Balance the need to provide sufficient information with the need to avoid a jumble.
Health and Safety Signage from the Government of Canada (PDFs):
- Poster: About coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- Infographic: Know the facts about COVID-19
- Poster: Help reduce the spread of COVID-19
- Poster: Cleaning and disinfecting public spaces during COVID-19
- Infographic: Wash your hands
- Poster: Physical distancing
- Infographic (three pages): Preventing COVID-19 in the workplace
Additional health and safety awareness graphics and information from the Government of Canada are available here.
Financial, HR and Pay Considerations
When implementing an array of new procedures, protocols and guidelines, it is important to ensure your staff is aware and that any relevant human resource protocols are implemented.
Onboarding new hires during a pandemic
Ensure any onboarding and training materials include COVID-19 safety measures. This includes any mandatory procedures upon arrival (e.g., screening, temperature check and hand sanitizing), expectations of the employee to report any symptoms of COVID-19, mandatory masks in the workplace, how to handle interactions with customers). You may also consider implementing a new rapid screening requirement on the new hire’s first day.
Employee training on COVID-19 protocols
Once you have undertaken the work to develop new procedures, ensure you have adequate training for your employees. This training can be in several forms, and businesses are encouraged to undertake several methods of communication and training. Options include:
- Virtual training sessions
- Socially distanced in-person training sessions
- Walkthroughs of new procedures on first day of reopening
- Memos sent via email outlining new procedures, obligations and operating plans
- New procedures for interacting with clients or customers
- Ensuring a physical copy of the new rules are available in the workplace, in addition to signage around the workplace reminding employees of the new policies. Laminated versions will make cleaning easier.
- Ensuring all employees have access to the latest official information and what to do if they test positive
Provincial workers’ compensation boards
Ensure you review your local province or territory’s worker compensation board policies to understand what your obligations are under various scenarios. For example, Ontario requires employers to submit an Employer’s Report of Injury/Illness (Form 7) to the WSIB in certain cases of exposure or potential exposure.
Check with your local workers’ compensation board for the most relevant information in your jurisdiction at the following link: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/information/wcb_canada.html
While the federal government has introduced a number of support programs, including paid sick leave, it is important to review your company’s existing benefits and communicate these to employees. Consider implementing additional, temporary support measures for employees who are confirmed positive, who live in a household with someone who has confirmed positive or who have been exposed and are awaiting test results.
Federal Financial Supports
Regional Development Agencies
- Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)
- Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED)
- Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor)
- Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario)
- Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor)
- Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD)
Provincial/Territorial Government Financial Supports
- Alberta: Financial Supports
- British Columbia: Financial Supports
- Manitoba: Economic Support Centre
- New Brunswick: Guidance for Businesses
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Business Supports
- Northwest Territories: Business Support
- Nova Scotia: Support for businesses
- Nunavut: Where can I get funding for my business?
- Ontario: Support for businesses
- Prince Edward Island: Supports and Services
- Quebec: Financial assistance
- Saskatchewan: Support for Businesses
- Yukon: Support for businesses
Childcare and Social Services
As most economic reopening plans across Canada involve several stages, a challenge to overcome is the inconsistent availability of childcare and other social services as employees return to the workplace. This is particularly the case when faced with school or daycare shutdowns.
This unprecedented situation necessitates flexibility by all involved to ensure children and other dependents can be cared for at the same time as businesses reopen. This means some staff may need to work from home or work part-time while some may not be immediately available to return to the workplace. Information throughout the pandemic has indicated that women have been predominantly affected by this scenario, with a disproportionate number being forced out of the labour market as a result.
Information on the availability of childcare and social services is provided for each province/territory below. Many of the resources also include instructions on the actions to undertake in the case of exposure. Click on each province to be taken directly to the relevant resources.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Legal and Liability
We recommend that you consult with legal experts to ensure your policies are inclusive and are as accommodating as possible to ensure all employees and customers are treated fairly. The legal landscape is still evolving as the legal community tries to figure out how to balance competing rights. It is important for companies to keep aware of legal developments, which will become particularly important as public health restrictions are loosened, including, eventually, when wearing masks is not mandatory.
Customers and Safety Protocols
Businesses will unfortunately face situations where customers refuse to follow safety protocols. Businesses should not hesitate to politely remind customers of the need to follow local regulations. Lax adherence to protocols not only creates unsafe work environments but also risks the imposition of fines from local bylaw officers. It will also be important to check your local region’s rules to confirm whether your business, the customer or both will receive the fine for non-compliance and ensure you are following all proper procedures accordingly.
Employees and Employers
Employers should expect hesitancy from some employees on returning to physical workspaces, particularly for those who have had prolonged work from home situations since the start of the pandemic. Having a robust set of protection measures and training in place will help build employee confidence. There are also likely limitations on the ability of companies to compel their employees to undergo rapid testing in the workplace, if the company decides to go down that route.
Despite vaccine deployment still ramping up, it is important to start to think now about how you may want to account for vaccination rates within your workforce.
Our vaccine resource hub has more information.
For the full scope of ourguidance surrounding vaccines, please view Section VIII of our Workplace Recovery Toolkit, here.
Additional Resources and Guides
The CBRN is a collection of more than 570 business organizations across Canada, representing thousands of businesses and millions of Canadians. Below, listed alphabetically by source, is a collection of just some of the resources made available by those groups.
- BDC: Support for Entrepreneurs Impacted by Coronavirus
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP: Key Business and Legal Implications
- Borden, Ladner, Gervais LLP: Employer Strategies for Managing Coronavirus Risks in the Workplace
- Canada Life: COVID-19 Tips for Business Leaders
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Pandemic (COVID-19) Tip Sheets
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Food processing guidelines
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Pandemic information
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Tips for employers
- Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Business Continuity and Recovery Planning Guide
- Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Crisis Communications Planning Guide
- Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Pandemic Preparedness Guide
- Canadian Payroll Association: Payroll and COVID-19
- Chamber of Marine Commerce: Marine Industry Trusted Partners for COVID-19 initiative
- Deloitte: Orchestrating the Recovery of Organizations and Supply Chains
- EDC: Webinar: Guide for getting COVID-19 financing and support for your business
- Facebook: Business Resource Hub
- Fasken: Pandemic Planning for Employers
- Fredericton, Greater Moncton and Saint John Region chambers of commerce: Re-Opening & Recovery of New Brunswick, A Guide for Businesses and Organizations
- Google: Helping Your Business Through COVID-19
- Gowling WLG: COVID-19 Resource Hub
- Restaurants Canada: COVID-19 Reopening Best Practices
- Retail Council of Canada: Retail Recovery Playbook and Retail Recovery Checklists
- Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce: 5 Steps for Business to Relaunch