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March 19, 2020 - COVID-19 Update and Letter From Provincial Health Officer

Further to the CSSEA Info issued on March 16, 2020, we are providing the attached Ministry of Health letter, as well as an update based on new questions and developments related to COVID-19.

Overriding Principles During a Provincial Health Emergency

The province has declared a provincial health emergency under the Emergency Program Act.

During this COVID-19 outbreak it is important that agencies do their utmost to continue to deliver programs to clients and ensure the job security of staff. Closures, suspension or reduction of programs should only occur AFTER consultation with their funders (ie. MCFD Operating Managers, CLBC Liaison Analysts) and public health officials to assess the medical risks. We ask agencies to consider all options including the redeployment and reassignment of employees from affected programs. We also ask that employers do not move to lay off staff at this time, as we are waiting for further direction from the province.

The reduction to essential staffing levels should only occur if and when you are faced with critical staff shortages and/or health and safety concerns, and only after it has been fully canvassed with public health officials and your funders.

Meeting with the Union Bargaining Association

CSSEA held a meeting with the unions of the Bargaining Association this week, and they have indicated they are prepared to work with employers during this public health crisis. To that end, they agreed to the need for the sector to have flexibility in addressing anticipated staffing challenges. The unions’ shared objective is to continue to provide services to clients to the best of our ability and to protect the employment security of employees. Where staffing challenges are growing, the unions are prepared to look at creative solutions such as the redeployment of employees to areas of highest need (provided the employees are qualified for the work to be performed) and deferring the approval of vacation requests. Employers are encouraged to make best efforts to connect with their local union representatives as soon as possible to engage in problem-solving discussions before moving to significantly change how programs are delivered or reducing services. If you are moving toward closing programs after consultation with your funders and public health, please be in touch with your CSSEA contact so we may facilitate these discussions with the union. We appreciate that these will be time-sensitive discussions and they will be treated with the highest priority under the circumstances. Please be prepared to report out on how your agency has adapted in these circumstances, including tracking the redeployment of staff.

The collective agreement has clear stipulations on how employers and unions are to proceed but at this time we request that you focus on redeployment and reassignment, and making best efforts to maintain employment levels.

Staffing Coverage

Despite some pressures to reduce staff, employers also continue to express serious concerns about the ability to maintain services based on a potential or actual shortage of available staff due to a higher number of illnesses, self-isolation, and/or the need for employees to take care of vulnerable loved ones (for example: suspension of classes following spring break). Some employers are adopting a strategy of addressing this concern by moving to “essential services” levels.

While CSSEA encourages employers to be aware of what those essential levels of service are, we do not encourage employers to go directly to those levels, as essential levels of service should be a last resort. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. As mentioned above, there is a need to continue to provide clients with usual service levels unless they are determined to be inadvisable by a public health pronouncement and/or your funder(s). Employers must continue to be in discussions with public health officers and their funders to assess what services are no longer advisable.
  2. Employees who express concerns about reporting to work for reasons other than illness or under a self-isolation directive should understand employers’ best efforts to keep the workplace safe and healthy, based on your increased attention and directions on social distancing, handwashing, coughing/sneezing etiquette, enhanced cleaning, and any other best practices recommended by the Provincial Medical Health Officer (MHO). After demonstrating your best efforts, engage employees about their concerns to determine whether it remains reasonable for them to attend work as scheduled, given their particular circumstances (for example, if an employee is providing elder care to frail parents, it may make sense to support the employee to take a vacation or unpaid leave). If it remains reasonable for them to attend work as scheduled, then the obligation to do so remains.
  3. Moving to staffing levels established under previous essential services orders for the purposes of managing during strike action is not applicable to the current situation, except to inform the discussion of which programs are most important to clients. The previous essential services order for your agency will not provide you with a formula for adoption in response to the current pandemic as they were intended to protect the public under a labour dispute.


CSSEA has been in discussion with government ministries and CLBC and they are aware of the potential financial impact of employee self-isolation in our sector. This is a matter that is being discussed at the highest provincial and federal government levels, and CSSEA has committed to tracking the number of employees in self-isolation on behalf of the sector. Agencies are encouraged to report out on this by completing the online tracking form. Please only report new leaves as they occur, or at least weekly. There is no need to repeat entries you have already reported.

Self-Isolation and Casual Employees

As previously mentioned, employee self-isolation for the 14-day incubation period to monitor for symptoms of illness should be done only with the approval of a medical professional or as declared by the Provincial MHO (eg. employee is returning from international travel, including from the United States). As of now, employees who are asymptomatic and concerned about having contracted the virus should complete the online self-assessment tool. After completing the self-assessment, those with further questions can contact 8-1-1 or local public health office, to secure and follow directions on self-isolation. A declaration from an employee that they have received this direction on a specified date and from a named professional will be sufficient proof at this time, as it may be challenging to secure written confirmation.

Employees who are asymptomatic and directed to self-isolate would be placed on a paid leave of absence (not sick leave) for the duration of the recommended isolation period, and those who are authorized to work from home would continue to be paid as usual. Casual employees’ paid leave would be calculated based on the assignments that they have accepted during their 14 day isolation period.

Should employees fall ill or develop symptoms during the self-isolation period, they would be entitled to the usual sick leave benefits under the collective agreement starting from the date they fall ill.

All self-isolating employees should be directed to keep their employer updated regarding their status and any direction they receive from a qualified medical professional. Employees returning to work from self-isolation should be symptom free and declare that they are symptom free before returning to work. Conversely, employees returning to work following recovery from COVID-19 should be requested to provide clearance from a medical professional prior to returning to support a safe and healthy workplace.

Early Intervention Program and Benefits

CSSEA is recommending that, at this time, employees who are directed to self-isolate or who are ill with COVID-19 not be referred to the EIP, as the program was not designed with pandemic in mind. We continue to request that you refer employees to EIP for any absences unrelated to COVID-19.

CSSEA also requests employers continue employees on their health benefits and pay premiums for the anticipated small number employees who are away on unpaid leave for 20 days or more due to COVID-19.

Future Developments

The situation remains extremely fluid and CSSEA is doing its best to answer the many questions from our members. At times, the answer may not be as fulsome as an agency expects but we are working to provide the most accurate and up-to-date responses in the midst of an unprecedented emergency that casts a large shadow on what we do. We are compiling a list of FAQs that we plan to send out next week when there is further clarity on a number of issues, including funding for self-isolation.

CSSEA remains in active discussions with government, other employer associations and the union bargaining association on emerging issues associated with COVID-19, and CSSEA will continue to communicate with members on HRLR developments. CSSEA has scheduled weekly meetings with the Union Bargaining Association to assist in coordinating labour relations matters. We will continue to report out on developments with future updates.

We encourage members to regularly check the websites referenced below for the latest news and to follow the directions of the Provincial Health Officer. Please contact your Consultant/Advocate should you need more information.

Office of the Provincial Health Officer

BC Centre for Disease Control – COVID-19

HealthLink BC (which contains many links to other useful websites)

Public Health Agency of Canada

and for travel notices:

WorkSafeBC – COVID-19 and the Workplace

Government of Canada – Employment Insurance – COVID 19

Communications Contact

Doris Sun
Director of Communications
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