New Brunswick

What does N.B.'s emergency declaration mean for businesses and workers?

The province’s declaration of a state of emergency changes what businesses can stay open and what employers must do to keep employees safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Move gives province much more power over people, employers

The Happy Baker with empty seats inside its closed location in downtown Fredericton. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

The province's declaration of a state of emergency changes what businesses can stay open and what employers must do to keep employees safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, Premier Blaine Higgs declared a state of emergency in New Brunswick, using the powers in the Emergency Measures Act.

It's a move that gives the government much more control over people and businesses.

"You should only leave the house for groceries or essential items," Higgs said during a news conference in Fredericton.

But many people will still need to go to work so various essential services, including grocery stores and gas stations, can remain in operation. 

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the declaration makes measures affecting businesses and workers mandatory. (Photo: Shane Fowler/CBC New)

Notably, the declaration means that after a week of public health recommending - without the power to enforce - now there are legal requirements. 

  • Owners and operators of locations where people may gather in large numbers must take all reasonable steps to prevent gatherings of more than 10 people;

  • Owners and managers of all workplaces must take every reasonable step to ensure minimal interaction of people within two metres of each other;

  • Carry out advice to minimize risk as issued by the chief medical officer of health.

"I would say that it's very clear that it's no longer a voluntary exercise," Higgs said Thursday. 

Employers are required to scale down operations to only essential workers. Employers will themselves define who is essential. 

As well, any business with a "public facing" element must halt that portion of its operations.

All businesses in retail sales must stop admitting patrons, except: grocery stores, pharmacies, automotive garages, post offices, financial and lending institutions, fuel retailers, hardware and automotive parts, and convenience stores. 

NB Liquor and Cannabis NB can remain open, but Higgs said they will have reduced hours. 

The declaration came after Higgs told reporters Tuesday that invoking the Emergency Measures Act wasn't required. 

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday she supports the move to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and "ensure compliance."

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, says she supports the declaration of a state of emergency in the province. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director with the Retail Council of Canada, said the orders to close and the pandemic have resulted in "trying times for the retail sector in New Brunswick."

He said he's hopeful the province will also come out with an assistance package for businesses affected by closures that builds on those announced by the federal government. 

He said businesses closed for weeks or months will face difficulty paying premiums for workers compensation, property taxes and power bills. 

For locations like call centres that have continued to operate, Higgs said changes must be made. 

"A call centre that does not meet the required distancing needs to change their configuration to ensure that they do so," Higgs said.

Jason Purdy, executive director of the industry group ContactNB, said many workplaces have implemented work-from-home. About 20,000 people in the province work at call centres.

Purdy said some call centres deal with information that's sensitive that can't leave the building. In those cases, he said operations are reducing to "skeleton crews."

Locations putting employees at risk face shutdown

Higgs offered few specifics when pressed by reporters on how the declaration would be enforced, saying he hoped the move would result in a shift in people's thinking before enforcement is required. 

Later in the day, Higgs said on the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast that the province is setting up a phone line people can call to report problems.

"We will monitor those sites, we will visit those sites and we will ensure compliance," Higgs said.

"And if a facility is not maintaining health and hygiene and is in fact exposing their employees, we will shut them down. We don't have a choice."

Does WorkSafeNB have a role?

WorkSafeNB's website says the agency's vision is to keep "people safe and healthy at work." Does that mean it can step in if issues arise related to the pandemic?

Laragh Dooley, director of communications with WorkSafeNB, told CBC the agency "does not have the authority to enforce public health recommendations on workplaces."

WorkSafeNB can investigate whether a workplace has taken reasonable measures to ensure health and safety of employees, which Dooley said could differ by workplace. 

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, each employer in the province must take reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Employees have the right to refuse work they believe is unsafe. 

Such complaints can be investigated by WorkSafeNB, Dooley said. As of Wednesday, Dooley said the agency hasn't received any complaints.

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About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

With files from Danielle McCreadie, Jordan Gill and Elizabeth Fraser

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