Coronavirus: Your legal questions answered

“I get that the COVID rules need to adapt to what's happening on the ground, but man, they change often. It’s tough to find up-to-date, reliable information on what's allowed and what's not."

– Hugo, Vancouver, BC

The coronavirus outbreak has dramatically impacted so much about our lives. We’re here to help with answers to common legal questions on the public health orders, workhomemoneyconsumerwillsbusiness, and courts.

Updated September 14, 2021 at 2 pm PT. We're updating this page regularly as developments unfold.

Vaccines

Can my employer say I have to get a vaccine in order to work?

According to BC’s human rights commissioner, employers could, in certain circumstances, implement a vaccination status policy. This would be any policy that lets the employer treat a worker differently depending on whether they are vaccinated or not. 

Every workplace is different. There’s no easy answer that says, for example, “if you work in retail, then yes, your employer can implement a vaccine status policy.” That being said, the safety of workers and customers is always a top priority, and public health indicates that vaccines are effective at keeping COVID at bay. 

If a policy is going to be put in place, the commissioner advises that it be for necessary reasons. These reasons would typically follow the health and safety guidelines we’ve been seeing throughout the pandemic, like:

  • Do our employees interact with the public?

  • Does our workplace allow for proper social distancing?

  • Is our workforce generally good at following COVID-related protocols, like washing hands, staying home when they have symptoms, and isolating if they’ve been in contact with someone who has had COVID?

Employers also need to strike a balance. Not all workers are in the same situation. Some, for example, might experience barriers to vaccination if they live in a remote community, have a disability, or are undocumented migrant workers.

If a vaccination status policy is put in place, employers can create exemptions. In doing so, BC’s human rights commissioner says the employer can create a requirement for some or all staff to wear a face mask, work at a physical distance from others, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, work remotely, or accept a reassignment to a setting that poses less risk of transmission.

What every workplace can do, though, is create open communication channels for how vaccination status requirements can be handled. Through effective consultation and communication, a workplace can get aligned on the appropriate vaccination policy. This doesn’t mean every worker will be happy with the chosen policy, but at the very least they’ll be properly informed. 

Is the vaccine passport a form of discrimination?

There are competing rights in play. Balancing them is very tricky. On the one hand, no one should experience discrimination for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine due to a personal characteristic protected under human rights law (such as a disability or their religion). On the other hand, no one’s safety should be put at risk because of others’ personal choices not to receive a vaccine.

Few, if any, government decisions make everyone happy. Here, the government notes it is striking a balance, curtailing non-essential services for some in the interest of protecting the health and safety of many.

According to BC's human rights commissioner, a person who chooses not to get vaccinated as a matter of personal preference does not have grounds for a human rights complaint. A personal preference could include a strongly held belief that a COVID-19 vaccine, or vaccines generally, do more harm than good. 

BC’s vaccine passport system does not allow for any exceptions, like for medical or religious reasons, except in extremely rare circumstances. In addition, gaining entry to non-essential services requires that you also show ID, which may be difficult for some, such as women fleeing violence, people who are homeless, or undocumented migrant workers. On grounds such as these, the vaccine passport could be considered discriminatory. 

However, Dr. Henry has stressed that the vaccine passport is a temporary measure to get us through a risky period — and that the passport requirement is limited to activities that are non-essential.

Several people I work with aren’t vaccinated. Can I insist on being able to work remotely?

There’s no legal requirement for employers to have a vaccination status policy in place. And there’s no law that says if some workers aren’t vaccinated, others can just opt to work from home. Unless your employment contract allows for it, working remotely is not a right; it’s a privilege. 

But that doesn’t mean you won’t be successful in convincing your employer. Much will depend on the circumstances, like:

  • Are you in close contact with these people at work?

  • Does your workplace have a policy that exempts certain people from not being vaccinated, and do these people have an exemption?

  • Can you do your job effectively from a remote location?

Effective communication is key here. If you present a strict demand or ultimatum, it may not go over well. But if you position your pitch as a request that will benefit the entire organization, it could help your cause.

Determine who you need to talk to first about this. Is it somebody in HR? Or just your direct report? Next, prepare your talking points. We’ve got a great primer on having tough talks with your boss to help build your confidence. You want to come off as confident and measured. Relate your reasons to your personal situation at home, and be sure to explain how you’ll be able to be as productive working remotely. Perhaps prepare a schedule in advance, which includes routine check-ins with your supervisors.

What if they say no? Again, unless it’s part of your employment contract, being able to work remotely isn’t automatic. If you’d like to pursue the matter further, you could talk to a lawyer to understand your options.

What’s the deal with this vaccine card requirement I’ve heard about?

Under a new provincial health order, you’ll need to have proof that you’ve been vaccinated in order to access certain non-essential events, services, and businesses. Starting September 13, you must have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. By October 24, you must be fully vaccinated.

You’ll be issued a vaccine card that will show your vaccination status. You’ll need to show your vaccine card to gain access to certain activities. Some of the activities covered include:

  • indoor ticketed concerts and sporting events

  • indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants and bars

  • nightclubs and casinos

  • movie theatres

  • gyms and recreation facilities

This requirement will be in place until January 31, 2022 and may be extended. For more, see the provincial government’s website.

How do I get a vaccine card?

You can access your proof of vaccination card on the BC government's website. You can get your vaccine card online here. You’ll need your personal health number, date of birth, and the date when you got one of your doses. 

You’ll be able to download your vaccine card to your smartphone and show it to gain access to certain activities. There is a paper option available as well.

In advance, it’s a good idea to confirm your immunization records are correct. You can access your records by registering for Health Gateway.

I don’t have a smartphone. How can I access the vaccine card?

First, see if you can get somebody with access to a computer to help you. They can help you navigate the process and print the card for you. If you or your helper don’t have a printer, you can try a local public library.

You can also order a paper copy of the vaccine card over the phone. Call 1-833-838-2323 (or 7-1-1 for the deaf) between 7 am and 7 pm daily. Translators are available. 

You can even get a paper copy of your vaccine card in-person at most Service BC offices.

Check the BC government’s guidance on getting a vaccine card for more information.

Masks

Do I still have to wear a mask?

As of August 25, masks must be worn in all indoor public spaces throughout BC. This order applies to anyone over age 12, regardless of vaccination status. Settings where a mask must be worn include:

  • shopping centres, coffee shops, and grocery stores

  • liquor and drug stores

  • airports, libraries, and community centres

  • restaurants, pubs, and bars (unless seated)

  • public transit, taxis, and ride-sharing services

  • inside schools for all K-12 staff, visitors, and students in grades 4-12

There are some exemptions, including for people with health conditions and those who can’t remove a mask on their own.

For more, see the provincial government’s website.

Do I have to wear a mask in common areas of my apartment or condo?

While these areas are not specifically on the province’s list of places where you have to mask up in public, your strata or building may have enacted their own temporary rules on this, in the interests of the health and safety of residents. 

Talk to your strata or building manager if you’re concerned and to understand the roadmap for your building.

Travel

Can I travel within BC?

Recreational travel is allowed within BC ⛵ 🛶 🏖️. However, travel to and from the Interior Health region is currently discouraged.

BC Ferries and BC Transit will offer increased services as needed.  

How does travel into Canada work?

The federal government has introduced a travel exemption for fully vaccinated foreign nationals. As of August 9, American citizens and permanent residents of the US who qualify for the exemption are allowed to enter Canada for discretionary travel. From September 7, all other foreign nationals will be able to travel to Canada if they qualify. 

You can check out the federal government’s interactive questionnaire to see if you are eligible to travel to Canada at this time.

In order to arrive by air, you typically must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of your flight. This applies even if you’re a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, or if you qualify for the foreign national exemption. As of February 3, all international flights are funnelled into one of four airports — Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver — where enhanced COVID-19 screening measures are in place. For many, this includes an immediate COVID test upon landing. The three-night hotel stopover requirement came to an end on August 9

On arrival by air, international travellers typically must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. But starting August 9th, eligible travellers (being Canadian citizens, permanent residents, those arriving under the foreign national exemption, and other narrowly defined groups) that are fully vaccinated, have a negative COVID test before arrival, and are asymptomatic, can avoid quarantine requirements. Check out the governments’ guidelines for more details.

Can I travel between provinces?

Travel between provinces is now welcomed, although it is preferable that you are fully vaccinated if visiting BC.

Domestic air travel is still restricted for people with COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone showing signs of the virus can’t travel by air between provinces and cities anywhere in Canada.

Social gatherings

Can I have people inside my home right now?

Yes, as of July 1, the government has signalled that personal indoor gatherings are now back to normal. However, as of August 23, residents of the Interior Health region must limit indoor gatherings to five people or one other household.

A personal gathering is something informal, like having friends over to hang out or for a dinner party. It wouldn’t include more organized affairs like a wedding or ceremony.

Can I hang out with people outside?

Yes, as of July 1, the government has signalled that outdoor gatherings are now back to normal in most of BC. As of August 23, residents of the Interior Health region must limit outdoor gatherings to no more than 50 people.

Are organized events, like weddings or concerts, now allowed?

Yes, but it depends on the size and whether they are indoors or outdoors. 

Indoor organized gatherings of up to 50 people or 50% of capacity (whichever is greater) are allowed at places like movie theatres, live theatre venues, and banquet halls.

Outdoor organized gatherings of up to 5,000 people or 50% capacity (whichever is greater) are allowed. This would include concerts, weddings, funerals or live theatre. 

In the Interior Health region, indoor organized gatherings are limited to 50 people and outdoor organized gatherings are limited to 100 people. Both require a COVID safety plan.

What’s the latest with restaurants and pubs? 

Restaurants, bars and pubs are open for patio and indoor dining. There are no maximum table sizes, and liquor service is back to pre-pandemic hours, but patrons still cannot move between tables.

Nightclubs can reopen with up to ten people seated at tables, but you still can’t dance. Casinos can operate at reduced capacity.

Can my gym or fitness class stay open? What about sports?

Indoor high intensity and low intensity group exercise is allowed with normal capacity. Gyms and recreation facilities can operate with normal capacity. However, those living in the Interior Health region must follow regional exercise restrictions.

All outdoor and indoor group sports for adults and youth are allowed. There are limits on the number of spectators, though. Travel for sport is allowed.

What about my kids’ activities?

We’re back to pre-pandemic protocols on kids’ activities.

Can I go to my place of worship?

Yes, you can. There are no restrictions on religious gatherings and worship services. Wedding and funerals, however, would have to abide by the capacity restrictions for organized events.

Work

After being laid off when the pandemic first hit, I’m happy to be getting a full pay cheque again. But it still doesn’t feel like my workplace is safe. Is there anything I can do if I feel uncomfortable?"

– Joseph, Victoria, BC

Can I take time off work to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. The BC Employment Standards Act has been changed to allow part- and full-time employees to take up to three hours of paid time off work to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. You can take additional paid leave for a second dose. Employees are entitled to this leave no matter how long they’ve been employed.

Can I refuse to work during the pandemic?

This is becoming less and less prevalent as we move closer to step 4 of BC’s restart plan. 

But there are certain situations where that’s a definite yes. Examples would be if you have COVID-19-like symptoms, have been told to isolate by public health authorities, or have arrived from outside of Canada in the last 14 days.

More generally, workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazardWorkSafeBC explains what amounts to an undue hazard. It’s an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For COVID-19, an undue hazard is one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure.

In these circumstances, WorkSafeBC advises to follow these steps within your workplace to resolve the issue. The first step is reporting the unsafe condition to your employer. The employer must investigate the matter and fix it if possible. If the matter is not resolved, you and your employer must contact WorkSafeBC. A prevention officer will investigate and take steps to find a workable solution.

Does a workplace need to have a COVID-19 safety plan?

Starting July 1, employers no longer need a COVID-19 safety plan. They just need a communicable disease plan, which doesn’t need to be posted in writing. WorkSafeBC explains what a communicable disease plan entails.

Can my employer just tell me not to come in?

They can. In some cases, they may ask you to work from home, which they can do to protect the safety of the workplace as a whole. Otherwise, if they're no longer paying you (or paying you significantly less), this would be considered a layoff.

But, will I get paid?

If you’re laid off, your employer owes you any wages you’ve earned that they haven’t yet paid. They also owe you severance pay — unless it’s a valid “temporary layoff” (check out our question below about this type of layoff). The amount of severance can vary. It depends on how long you worked for them, what’s in your employment contract, and other factors. Take a look at our information on severance pay.

This continues to be a trying time for many workers and employers. If you like your job, try to keep communication lines open with your manager through the crisis to understand when you may be able to come back. 

Am I eligible for financial aid?

Due to the pandemic, the federal government has expanded the employment insurance program to help more workers. The requirements have been relaxed, so you need fewer hours to qualify. As well, those who qualify are entitled to a higher minimum rate of benefits ($500 per week for regular EI benefits). The federal government’s website explains the changes.

Early in the pandemic, the federal government also introduced the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) to help workers affected by the crisis. The government phased out that benefit in September 2020 and replaced it with a package of “recovery benefits.” The Canada recovery benefit is a $1,000 payment every two weeks, for up to 42 weeks (and a reduced amount for another 12 more weeks). It’s available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and who aren’t eligible for EI (for example, self-employed workers). This recovery benefit is set to expire on October 23, 2021.

There are other recovery benefits available to those who are sick or in self-isolation, and those who can’t work because they’re caring for someone affected by the pandemic. Visit the federal government’s website for more on the recovery benefits.

As well, check out our updated guidance on figuring out which benefits you’re eligible for.

I was told my layoff was just temporary. Is that allowed?

temporary layoff is a specific type of layoff where employers don’t have to pay severance. But employers can’t do this unless at least one of these three things applies: you’re in an industry where layoffs are standard practice (for example, forestry), you agree to the layoff, or it’s in your employment contractThe pandemic, on its own, does not give your employer a legal right to lay you off temporarily.

If none of the reasons above apply, then you have a right to receive severance pay. The amount depends on how long you worked for them, what’s in your contract, and other factors.

If they’re allowed, temporary layoffs still can’t last forever (they call ‘em temporary for good reason). Generally, it’s a maximum of 13 weeks. If your employer isn’t ready to recall you back to work after 13 weeks of layoff, they have two options. They can apply to extend the temporary layoff, or they can pay you severance. In applying for an extension, the employer must show that at least half of affected employees support the application. The Employment Standards Branch has details of the process.   

While you’re laid off, you can apply for federal benefits. You may be eligible for employment insurance, a government program to help people who are out of work. The EI program has been temporarily expanded to cover more workers who’ve been affected by the pandemic.

If you aren’t eligible for EI, you may qualify for the Canada recovery benefit. This is a $1,000 payment every two weeks, for up to 42 weeks (and a reduced amount for another 12 more weeks). We explain these benefits, and help you decide which one's right for you.

My workplace cut my salary in half. Can they do this?

If you’re still working full-time, then cutting your salary in half could be considered constructive dismissal. This is when your employer changes your job in a major way, and you don’t agree to it. If you want to quit over this, you’d likely be entitled to severance pay. But proving constructive dismissal is no small matter. You may choose to discuss the situation with your employer, perhaps reducing your hours to part-time to match up with the reduced salary.

If your work hours are reduced because your workplace has to slow down because of the pandemic, you can apply for employment insurance benefits. (To qualify, you need to, among other things, have gone at least seven days without work and without pay.) Here's the full list of requirements.

Or, if you aren’t eligible for EI, you can apply for the Canada recovery benefit. This benefit provides $1,000 every two weeks, for up to 42 weeks (and a reduced amount for another 12 more weeks). It’s available to workers who see a 50% reduction in earnings compared to the previous year due to the pandemic. Visit the federal government's website for details.

I’m feeling ill. Can I take time off work and keep my job?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the BC government has established three new types of leave for those who are unable to work due to illness. An employee can take up to three days of unpaid leave each year if they can't work due to personal illness or injury. You must have been in the job for at least 90 days to qualify for this leave.

There’s also now a paid sick leave due to COVID-19 reasons. You’re entitled to three days of paid sick leave if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse. This leave is also available if you’re in isolation or quarantine, or your employer has asked you not to work due to concern about your exposure to others. If you qualify, your employer must pay you at least an average day’s pay for each day of leave you take. 

In addition to the three days of paid leave, you’re entitled to an indefinite unpaid leave for any of the COVID-19 reasons noted above. You can take this leave for as long as you need it, without putting your job at risk. This leave is also available for other coronavirus-related reasons, such as if you’re unable to return to work due to travel restrictions. The Employment Standards Branch explains each of these types of leave.

As well, our laws prevent discrimination against workers if they have a disability. BC’s Human Rights Commissioner views COVID-19 as a disability (saying it is more akin to HIV than to the common cold). So this means if you have COVID-19, your employer can’t treat you differently — without justification — than someone who doesn’t have it. For example: they can ask you to work from home so that everyone can stay healthy, but they can't deny you, say, a promotion or flexible work arrangements just because you have COVID-19.

Will I get paid when I take a sick day?

In May 2021, the BC government introduced a new type of paid sick leave for those unable to work for COVID-19 reasons. Workers who qualify are entitled to three days of paid leave between May 20, 2021 and December 31, 2021. Your employer must pay you at least an average day's pay for each day of leave you take.

If your employer has an extended health plan, you may be covered under short-term disability benefits (ask your plan administrator). 

You can also apply for federal benefits. If you’re unable to work because of illness or quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, you can apply for employment insurance sickness benefits. Here's the full list of requirements.

If you aren’t eligible for EI, you can apply for the Canada recovery sickness benefit. It’s available to those who can’t work because they’re sick or self-isolating due to the pandemic and who aren’t eligible for EI. The federal government's website explains this benefit

I’m self-employed, but now I’m sick and can’t work at all. What are my options?

Employees in BC have their wages backstopped against layoffs. A self-employed person doesn’t, unless they register themselves and pay into the employment insurance system.  

Those who do register can get EI sickness benefits, paid to those who can’t work for medical reasons. Here's who can qualify.

If you aren’t eligible for EI, you can apply for the Canada recovery sickness benefit. It provides $500 per week, for up to four weeks. It’s available to those who aren’t able to work because they’re sick or self-isolating due to the pandemic, and who don’t qualify for EI. Here’s the full list of requirements.

Will my job be there when I get back?

The laws in BC provide for unpaid leaves of absence, where an employee can take time off without pay and still have their job waiting for them when they get back. We explain personal and family leaves and sick leave, and offer tips on how to ask for a leave.

The amount of leave varies, depending on the type of leave. Employees get three days of unpaid leave each year if they can't work due to personal illness or injury (note: this was new in 2020). They also get five days of unpaid leave per year to care for someone in their immediate family. They get between 16 to 36 weeks to care for a family member (depending on their age) that is critically ill.

In addition, there are two main types of leave for COVID-19 reasons. You’re entitled to three days of paid sick leave if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or under orders to self-isolate. As well, you can take an indefinite unpaid leave for those and additional coronavirus-related reasons. 

Note that these rules only cover “employees,” not contractors or gig-economy workers.

As well, under our human rights laws, employers must not discriminate against people based on certain personal characteristics (for example, religion, disabilities, or family status). If you’re disadvantaged at work because of one of these personal characteristics, your employer has a duty to accommodate you. If you have kids to take care of, it’s likely your employer has to take reasonable steps to accommodate youBut you should take certain steps here before asking for extended leave time. For example, you might see if family members can help, or if child care is available. 

Can my employer ask me if I have COVID-19?

Yes. Your employer has to make sure all of their employees work in a safe environment. This applies whether the workplace is big or small. They can ask (and require you to tell them) if you have the illness or have been in contact with somebody who has. They can also require you to self-quarantine if you’ve recently returned from a coronavirus outbreak hotspot.

Your employer can also remind you to wash your hands and tell you to be prepared to work from home.

Home

"My landlord sold their condo, and I was supposed to move out at the end of next month. But now, I’m self-isolating with a bad cough. I don’t think it’s responsible for me to move right now. I’m not sure who I can even get to help me move. I’m in a real bind here."

– Priya, Richmond, BC

I won’t be able to make my next rent. Now what?

From April to August 2020, a BC government program offered temporary rent support for those who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic. That program has ended. Renters still experiencing a loss of income may be eligible for rental assistance for lower income families and seniors. See the BC Housing website for details and full eligibility requirements.  

To give tenants a reasonable timeframe to pay back any rent they owe from March 18 to August 17, 2020, the government introduced a rent repayment framework. That framework ended in July 2021. The result is that all unpaid rents should be repaid by July 10, 2021, unless the parties agreed to an alternative arrangement to extend payments beyond that date. 

The government has also frozen rent increases until December 31, 2021. Annual rent increase notices with an effective date after March 30, 2020 and before January 1, 2022 are cancelled. The government is advising not to pay the increased amount.

It’s important to understand that, as a renter, you still have to pay rent. A ban early in the pandemic on evictions for non-payment of rent ended on August 18, 2020. So, make sure to communicate with your landlord. Discuss your current situation and consider putting a plan in place for deferred rental payments so your expectations are aligned going forward. 

Can I still get evicted?

When the pandemic first hit, the government put in a halt on evictions. The ban ended in August 2020, and was replaced by a framework to give renters time to pay any back rent owing. That framework was repealed in July 2021. The result is that if there is unpaid rent and no repayment plan in place to extend payments, a landlord can evict you for unpaid rent.

Do I have to tell my landlord if I’ve tested positive for COVID-19?

No, you don’t. In fact, you don’t have to disclose any medical information to your landlord. And they can’t threaten to end your tenancy if you don’t tell them these things. You’re protected by BC privacy legislation. Even if you do tell your landlord about your health status, they’re obliged to keep the information confidential. If your landlord pressures you on this, remind them that you have rights under privacy legislation. And you can complain to our provincial privacy commissioner if you feel your landlord has crossed the line when it comes to respecting your privacy.

What if I can’t make my mortgage payments?

If you have a mortgagethere are steps you can take if you’re anticipating payment difficulties. You can also call your bank or credit union — many are offering payment deferrals. (But interest may still accrue on the balance; make sure you ask about that!)

If you’re bracing for extreme turbulence ahead, check out our step-by-step guide on your rights and options if you’re having difficulty paying your mortgage.

What are we doing for the most vulnerable members in our community?

Early in the pandemic, the province expanded bc211, a helpline that provides information about community, government and social services. Anyone in the province can now call 211 to learn where they can find help — and how they can offer help.

Starting with payments issued in April 2021, people on income assistance and disability assistance automatically receive a permanent $175 per month increase. Also, during the pandemic, the province has stopped deducting EI or federal pandemic relief benefits from welfare payments.

For vulnerable segments of the population, authorities have relaxed some of the rules. For example, the province introduced new clinical guidance to help reduce the risks to people who use substances. The guidance recommends that health care providers prescribe safe alternatives to the illegal drug supply.

Money

“This pandemic made my work situation precarious. And money is tight now. With groceries, rent, loan payments, and so many other pressures, it’s hard for me to prioritize what to pay first."

– Morgan, Vancouver, BC

I’ve heard it’s possible to defer some bills?

Between March and June 2020, BC Hydro offered a COVID-19 relief fund for customers unable to work due to the pandemic. That program has closed, but Hydro continues to offer other payment options. You can ask to defer payments or access grants to help pay your hydro bills. 

Fortis BC is offering flexible payment options for gas and electricity bills. And they won’t cut off anyone during the crisis.

ICBC customers can ask to defer monthly payments for up to 90 days with no penalty.

I may have to withdraw money on my credit card. What do I need to know?

Borrowing money from your credit card comes with fees and steep interest rates, upwards of 20% per year. Consider borrowing money from a friend or relative, or from a credit union or bank that offers lower interest rates. One option to consider is opening up a line of credit. We have resources on borrowing money and dealing with debt that might help as you consider your options. 

Is there relief to help low-income people?

Starting with payments issued in April 2021, people on income assistance and disability assistance automatically receive a permanent $175 per month increase.

Also, for the first time since it was introduced in the 1980's, the senior’s supplement was increased. This support for low-income seniors went up by $50 per recipient. 

As well, during the pandemic, the province has stopped deducting EI or federal pandemic relief benefits from welfare payments.

What about supports for students, and student loans?

Between May to August 2020, the federal government’s emergency student benefit provided financial support for post-secondary students and recent graduates who couldn’t find work or made less than $1,000 per month due to coronavirus.    

The federal government also placed a six-month interest-free freeze on all Canada student loans, from March 30 to September 30, 2020. No payment was required and interest didn't add up during this time. Students didn’t need to apply for the repayment pause. The province similarly froze all BC student loan payments for six months, also effective March 30.  

The government also increased maximum amounts for student grants and loans

What are the deadlines for income tax during this time?

The due date for filing 2020 tax returns, and paying any income tax amounts owed, was April 30, 2021. The federal government has information about what you need to know for the 2021 tax-filing season.

Do I have to report CERB and recovery benefits when I’m doing my taxes?

Yes. CERB and other recovery payments are typically taxable. You have to report any CERB payments you received as income when you file your personal income tax return. How much tax (if any) you’ll have to pay will depend on your overall income

Even though CERB is taxable, it’s noteworthy that you don’t have to pay tax for some other government benefits during the pandemic, including the one-time BC emergency benefit for workers for $1,000, the Canada child benefit, and the one-time seniors payment of up to $500.

The federal government walks you through the steps you need to take at tax time when filling out your tax return. In the meantime, this online calculator can help you estimate the amount of tax you will owe.

Consumer

“I got a call from the 'Canada Health Authority' telling me I tested positive for COVID-19. They followed up with a text message saying I was eligible for government benefits. They asked for my social insurance number and personal health number, to 'confirm my identity', as well as my credit card, to process my benefit payments. It sounded so official, but it must have been a scam. I've never been tested for COVID-19."

– Jasper, Golden, BC

Sadly, yes. Fraudsters seek to profit from consumers' fears and uncertainties, and the spread of misinformation. Be alert. Especially for scams related to the government benefit programs: be extra suspicious if a text message asks you for your personal information.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a list of COVID-19 related scams to watch out for.

I was supposed to take a flight, but may have to cancel or postpone. What are my rights?

Both WestJet and Air Canada introduced more flexible cancellation or rebooking policies in response to the pandemic. In most cases, they are waiving change fees or providing credit for future travel if you’d like to cancel. Best to try to accomplish as much as you can online — their call centers continue to be busy. 

If I can’t sign a contract in person, what are my options?

There are online services available, like DocuSign or HelloSign, that make online signing easy and efficient. It may be best to ask a lawyer or notary public for specific advice here, since some documents have very particular requirements for in-person signatures or witnessing.

Wills

“With the pandemic scare still vivid, writing a will has moved from my should-do list to a top priority. I'm a childcare worker. When you’re caring for little ones — you hold them, you feed them — it’s impossible to practise physical distancing. I’m proud to do my part. But going to work has been a risk to my health and my family’s, so I’m not taking any more chances when it comes to my final wishes.”

– Priya, North Vancouver, BC

I don’t want to meet with anyone in person right now. Can I still prepare a will?

Yes. A change in the law made during the pandemic allows a will to be witnessed remotely. (Previously, two witnesses had to be physically present to watch you sign your will, in order for the will to be valid.) The change allows for you and your witnesses to be in each other’s electronic presence. For example, you and your witnesses might connect on a video call, each with a copy of the will, and watch each other sign the document.

For more on what this might look like and the legal requirements for the remote witnessing of wills, see preparing or updating your will during coronavirus.

I’m a frontline healthcare worker. What should I consider when writing up my will?

If coronavirus poses a higher risk to you because of your occupation or health condition, there are some extra things to consider in preparing a will. These will depend on your particular circumstances, but may include:

  • how to make plans for — and provide for — any young children

  • planning for what you want to happen if both you and your spouse were to pass away

  • updating records of what you own and owe, and handing over digital passwords, to make things easier for your executor, should the worst come to pass

  • getting other documents in place, like a power of attorney or a representation agreement, to clarify who will handle your financial or health affairs should you become incapable

Our page on preparing or updating your will during coronavirus walks you through these considerations  — and other things to plan for at this time.

Can I still apply for a grant of probate or administration right now?

Early in the pandemic, in-person court registry services were suspended. As of July 13, 2020 all Supreme Court registries re-opened for in-person services, and parties may file materials at the registry. While in-person filing is an option, the court strongly encourages e-filing, faxing, or mailing your documents to the registry. Here are contact details for registry locations. The court has set out measures for those attending a courthouse in person.

Find out more about the probate process in our information on dealing with an estate.

If I don’t want to meet with anyone in person right now, can I still prepare a power of attorney?

Yes. There are measures in place to allow for the remote signing and witnessing of powers of attorney. It’s best to connect with a lawyer or notary public. They can explain the temporary legal framework that’s in place. The framework allows for you and your witness to be in each other’s electronic presence, so long as the witness is a lawyer or notary public. The same applies for the attorney and their witness.  

Your lawyer or notary will make sure the document, and the signing process, complies with this law. This could involve you and your lawyer or notary connecting on a video call, each of you with an identical copy of the power of attorney, and watching each other sign the document. When your attorney signs the document, this can also be witnessed remotely by a lawyer or notary. Your lawyer or notary will arrange for the original signed copies to be compiled, and kept together.  

Your lawyer or notary should ask if you want your attorney to have powers relating to real property. If so, your lawyer or notary will have to prepare extra documentation to be filed with the land title office

Preparing an enduring power of attorney is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to plan for your financial future. If you’re ready to get started, see our information on preparing an enduring power of attorney.

I heard it’s a good idea to have a representation agreement. What are my options for making one while social distancing?

One day, you might become unable to make decisions for yourself — important decisions about your body and your health care. With a representation agreement, you can authorize someone to make these decisions for you.  

Right now there are measures in place to allow for the remote signing and witnessing of representation agreements. It’s best to connect with a lawyer or notary public. They can explain the temporary legal framework that’s in place. The framework allows for you and your witness to be in each other’s electronic presence, so long as the witness is a lawyer or notary public. Your lawyer or notary will make sure the document, and the signing process, complies with this law.

We can help you figure out what kind of representation agreement is the right fit for you. You can then continue onto our information on preparing an enhanced representation agreement or preparing a standard representation agreement.

Business

I run a small print shop over in East Vancouver. I’ve had to lay off a few employees. I’m still open, but just barely keeping the lights on. One of my biggest clients owes me a bunch of money, but now says they won’t pay me this month."

– Sydney, Vancouver, BC

I’ve heard there’s government help available for small business owners?

The federal government has put in measures to help businesses. There are interest-free emergency loans available, now up to $60,000.

Initially, one of the requirements was that a business must have paid out at least $20,000 in 2019 to its employees. The government expanded the criteria to include owner-operated small businesses that do not have a payroll, as well as sole proprietors receiving business income directly. 

Keep this page in mind when reviewing the evolving eligibility criteria. You’d apply for this loan directly through your financial institution where you already do your banking. They will verify your eligibility and confirm what documentation you need to provide.

There are also tax deferrals (more time to pay income tax and sales tax owing). Check out the deadline dates here.

And there’s a 75% wage subsidy for small businesses, for up to 36 weeks, retroactive to March 15, 2020. Meaning: the government will pay the business 75% of their workers’ wages (up to certain maximums). The intent is to help businesses to keep workers (or re-hire ones that have been laid off) during the crisis.

I’m a small business owner. A client has refused to pay me, using coronavirus as their reason. Can they do this?

This can depend. If you have a written contract with this client, check to see if there is a force majeure clause. Often called an act of God clause, it may let people get out of their contractual duties because of an unforseen event beyond their control. But it’s not for certain. It often requires a reasonable level of effort by both parties to mitigate their situation. 

This is a tough time for everyone. Best to communicate openly, either orally or in writing, to try to reach a compromise

Courts

I’m confused as to whether in my court case I have extra time to file a claim or counterclaim."

– Rae, Coquitlam, BC

Is the courthouse open? If I have a case coming up, will it be postponed?

After being closed early in the pandemic, courts in British Columbia resumed operations in mid-2020, with extensive new protocols in place. For Provincial Court matters, please consult their notices. Notices have also been issued by the Supreme Court and Appeals Court.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal continues to operate normally, though it is extending some timelines. This online tribunal handles small claims matters up to $5,000 and certain other types of disputes.

What if I’m running out of time to file a claim?

Early in the pandemic, the province issued an order suspending all limitation periods and time periods for starting a claim or bringing an appeal in a civil or family court matter. (There was an exception for builders' liens claims.) The suspension continued until March 25, 2021. This resulted in the suspension having been in place for exactly one year. To be clear: on March 25, 2021, the suspension of limitation periods ended. If you're contemplating a court action or appeal in a civil or family matter, file your paperwork now.

For matters before tribunals (as distinct from courts), each tribunal can decide whether to suspend time periods. Check with the tribunal that is in play for your situation.

Legal Aid BC continues to provide legal aid services, but by phone only. If you live in a community where there is a local agent, call the agent's office to apply for legal aid. Legal Aid BC’s online services remain open, such as the LiveHelp chat service on their Family Law website.

Yes, but non-profits have adapted their services during the pandemic, as so many have. Access Pro Bono ramped up their telephone advice service. CLAS continues to provide assistance to eligible clients, but the logistics changed

Some providers launched new services to respond to the crisis. For example, Mediate BC offers a "low-bono" online mediation program that helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic.

Is the land registry open for business?

At BC’s land title authority, front counter services are closed, but are planning to reopen in September 2021. You can still register property sales and other title interests through their online services.

Other resources

Legal Aid BC continues to provide services over the phone at 604-408-2172 or 1-866-577-2525. They've also expanded the hours of their LiveHelp chat service. Their legal information outreach workers can provide information by phone on coronavirus-related legal issues

Justice Education Society helps with coronavirus-related legal questions on its Ask JES phone and chat lines. Call or text 1-855-875-8867 or access live chat between 11 am and 2 pm Monday to Friday.

Mediate BC offers a quarantine conflict resolution service. This online mediation program helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic. For example: a tenant and landlord having difficulties with rent, or neighbours clashing from living (and working) in greater proximity. Fees are on a sliding scale, based on the annual income of each party.

More information

Clicklaw, operated by Courthouse Libraries BC, aggregates COVID-19 resources from a range of agencies in BC.  

Justice Education Society operates a website with COVID-19 legal information.

On their Family Law website, Legal Aid BC has posted Q&As on coronavirus and family law issues.

  • Reviewed in September 2021
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 30 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

People's team, People's Law School

People's team

Was this helpful?

Also on this topic

Work it out

Coronavirus & benefits for workers: Which are for you?

Need to know

Coronavirus & relief benefits: The 5-minute summary

Work it out

Preparing or updating your will during coronavirus

Webinar

Your Rights as a Worker in the Time of Coronavirus

Webinar

Everyday Legal Issues During COVID Fatigue

Webinar

Returning to Work During the Pandemic

Webinar

EI and Emergency Benefits for Workers

Q&A

Still not sure what to do?

If you're looking for advice specific to your situation, there are options for free or low-cost help.

Options for legal help