Good Friday marks the start of the Easter long weekend in Canada. Undoubtedly, this year, festivities will be observed differently. Due to COVID-19, large gatherings are currently prohibited and most private and public places of recreation are closed, including places of worship. Employers must continue to navigate these trying times, holiday or not. Below, we have outlined a few key reminders for employers and as the long weekend approaches.

Non-essential services closed

Jurisdictions across Canada have ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, some until at least May, pursuant to powers under applicable emergency legislation. This weekend will be no exception; non-essential businesses must remain closed. Some jurisdictions have begun enforcing these emergency orders with significant fines. For example, in Ontario, the Ford government has announced increased enforcement measures for businesses that violate the emergency order, which could result in fines up to $500,000.

Occupational health and safety reminders

As the situation evolves, the health and safety of employees continues to be a paramount concern. Employers should review their health and safety policies and continue to consider what adjustments may be appropriate given the significant changes to employee’s work environments. In many cases, employees are now working remotely in spaces that employers do not control. As mentioned in our recent legal update, the Supreme Court of Canada recently recognized that employers are not necessarily required to carry out yearly inspections in workplaces they do not control. Nonetheless, health and safety obligations are wide ranging and should be reviewed and adapted as needed.

In cases where employees must still physically attend their workplaces, employers may wish to take advantage of the long weekend to ensure proper maintenance of the workplace in accordance with public health recommendations, including disinfecting workstations, implementing measures to limit physical interaction, and, where needed, re-arranging work spaces to comply with the social distancing directions of at least two meters between individuals.

Accommodating employees during the Easter and Passover holidays amid a pandemic

While places of worship will remain closed for Easter and Passover, employees may still be observing these holidays, albeit in alternative ways. Some employees may find participating in traditions more challenging this year.

Employers still have the same obligations to accommodate employees for religious observances, up to the point of undue hardship. Employers should continue to abide by their accommodation policies and, where appropriate, consider other options for employees who may require more flexibility due to COVID-19. For example, employers may wish to consider providing employees with additional or alternative time off of work to observe their holiday, in particular if they were unable to do so due to increased work demands or other obstacles caused by COVID-19. Employers should note that the Good Friday statutory holiday (and  Easter Monday for some jurisdictions, like the federal sector), may not properly take into account all employees, namely those who celebrate Passover or Orthodox Easter.

Finally, we urge employers to stay up to date with the evolving COVID-19 situation and follow guidance from public health authorities. For further assistance, employers should contact one of our lawyers.