Québec Announces Gradual Reopening Strategy as COVID-19 Situation Stabilizes

May 1, 2020

This post was originally published on April 28 and was last updated on May 1, 2020.

On April 28, 2020, the Government of Québec, in collaboration with public health authorities, unveiled the first phase of the province’s strategy to re-open businesses. In this first phase, three sectors, will reopen at different points in the month of May, depending type of activity and the geographic zone.

The list of priority services and activities also continues to apply allowing businesses on that list up until April 27, 2020 to also continue to operate. For more on priority services and activities,  please see our prior post.

Three Sectors Opening in the First Phase

Retail stores with a direct exterior access

As of May 4th, retail stores with a direct exterior access may reopen everywhere in Quebec except for the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (i.e. Greater Montreal). Retail stores in Greater Montreal may reopen on May 11th. The supply chains for these retail stores can also resume their activities on the same dates.

The recent restrictions on the operating hours of retail establishments on Sundays will continue until the end of May. For more on those restrictions and related exceptions, please see our prior post.

All construction industry worksites

A large part of the construction industry was reopened in mid-April as a result of the additions to the list of priority services and activities.  Phase 1 extends the reopening to all construction worksites including roadwork and infrastructure as of May 11th.  The opening in Phase 1 also applies to this industry’s supply chain. Note that administrative staff in this industry must continue teleworking.

Manufacturing companies

A number of manufacturing activities were already open as a result of being on the list of priority services and activities. Phase 1 extends the right to re-open to all business in the manufacturing sector as of May 11th and, for manufacturers that are not already operating to produce priority services and activities or inputs or raw materials required by priority services and activities, it applies a restriction on the number of employees per shift on a given site to a maximum of 50 workers and 50% of the employees exceeding the limit of 50 workers. The restriction on employees is set to be removed on May 25th.

Employment Health and Safety Matters

Even as these sectors re-open, all employees who can engage in teleworking must continue to do so.

All workplaces must comply with the health regulations issued by the public health authorities and the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST), as set out in the Workplace sanitary standards guide – COVID19 (the Guide).

The Guide published by the CNESST indicates that it is the employer's responsibility to identify the risks of transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. If it is impossible to eliminate the risk of contamination, the employer must try to reduce and control it. The employer must also identify the tasks for which employees may be exposed to the virus.

Thereafter, the employer must take preventive measures adapted to his or her situation, which could include, but are not limited to, the following measures:

  • exclusion of symptomatic persons from the workplace, identification of symptomatic employees through a questionnaire or employee self-assessment;
  • the physical separation of a minimum of two (2) metres that must be maintained during rest and meal breaks;
  • the use of technology (telework);
  • the installation of physical barriers;
  • the organization of work methods;
  • the wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment provided by the employer;
  • compliance with hygiene measures and respiratory etiquette, including the use of single-use tissues and frequent hand washing;
  • frequent cleaning of frequently touched tools, equipment and surfaces, as well as sanitary facilities and eating and resting areas;
  • maintaining and keeping ventilation systems in good working order; and
  • the employer's particular attention to the psychological health problems that its employees may experience in the current context.

In accordance with the Act respecting Occupational Health and Safety, the employer must take all necessary measures to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical integrity of its employees. The employer must ensure that these preventive measures protect employees against the risk of contamination or adopt them as appropriate. The employer must also inform employees of the risks related to their work, including those related to COVID-19, and provide them with the appropriate training, where necessary, so that they can perform their work safely.

To date, the CNESST has published workplace health standards guides specific to the following sectors:

Please note that the guides are evolving, so regular consultation is recommended.

In the event of a violation of the Act respecting Occupational Health and Safety, fines vary between $1,500 and $300,000 for a legal person.

Subsequent Phases

Many sectors or economic activities, where there is more risk of spreading the virus, remain on hold, including shopping centres, restaurants, personal care, and the cultural and tourism sectors. The Government of Québec, in collaboration with public health authorities continues to evaluate the ability to safely re-open other sectors.  The businesses that will be allowed to open during subsequent phases will be announced in the coming weeks.

Of course, the ability to re-open these other industries and to maintain the current schedule of re-opening depends on the progression of the virus. New closings may occur if additional outbreaks of the virus arise which compromise the healthcare system’s ability to deal with it.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is intended to convey general information about legal issues and developments as of the indicated date. It does not constitute legal advice and must not be treated or relied on as such. Please read our full disclaimer at www.stikeman.com/legal-notice.

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