By McLennan Ross Labour & Employment Team
What we are seeing
- Alberta's unemployment rate dropped in July to 12.8%, although it remains the second highest rate in the country. Further, 8,200 businesses in Alberta shut their doors in March 2020, followed by another 11,300 businesses in April. These statistics do not account for contractors or other self-employed individuals who could not find work during the same time period. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, Alberta has the highest percentage of small businesses still at risk of closure anywhere in Canada, with the estimates from 8% to as high as 25%, and the mid-range estimate being 19%.
What we are hearing
- It has been confirmed by two different media sources that Alberta will be discontinuing the use of its mobile tracing app, ABTraceTogether, which was first unveiled on May 1, 2020 and will switch to a national app, the COVID Alert exposure notification application. Both apps use Bluetooth technology to determine if a user has come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. If so, the user would be notified so that he or she could self-isolate and prevent further spread of the virus. AHS will be providing details regarding how the national app will be adopted in Alberta.
- On July 31, 2020, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) issued a news release confirming that they had concluded their joint review of the COVID Alert app and support the voluntary use of the app. Although some disclosure of personal information was possible, it was a permissible risk in light of the greater health issues at stake and the fact that use of the app is voluntary.
- In a separate statement, IPC reiterated that it had requested the Ontario Government to issue strong public messages encouraging businesses and employers to respect the voluntary nature of COVID Alert by not compelling individuals to use the app. This statement seems to make it clear that if any employer compels the use of the app by employees, it may be open to a viable complaint under the privacy legislation. Based on previous statements from the Alberta Privacy Commissioner, we expect a similar approach will be taken in Alberta.
What we are saying
- As Alberta's daily infection rate continues to average over 100 per day, the average number of new cases per million citizens is double that of Ontario, the Chief Medical Officer is cautioning against Alberta becoming complacent about following public health guidance of masks, social distancing, and hygiene, and is blaming the recent spike in cases on factors other than decreased vigilance. However, the number of deaths from COVID-19 and required use of ICU remain low.