Coronavirus: Your legal questions answered

Things seemed to be getting back to normal(ish). But now the latest wave has hit. There's a new government 'order' or 'guideline' every time I turn around. I feel confused about what's truly required and what's just recommended."

– Hugo, Vancouver

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

Updated April 23, 2021 at 10:30 am PT. We're updating this page regularly as developments unfold.

Latest public health orders

Can I travel within BC?

There is now a provincial health order restricting non-essential travel within BC until May 25. The government released new guidance on what is considered non-essential. It includes vacations, recreation, or visiting friends or family for social reasons. See the province's website for a full list of what’s considered essential travel.

The order identifies three travel regions — Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley, Interior/North,  and Vancouver Island. Starting on Friday April 23rd, roadside checks may be performed on vehicles travelling between these health regions (for a parallel, think of what they do on New Year’s Eve to catch drivers under the influence). Periodic enforcement (and not random checks) are expected to happen at key transit points between these regions, like the Highway 1 or Coquihalla corridors after Hope, or at BC Ferry terminals. The goal of these checks is to educate people on the travel restrictions, but you could get a fine of up to $575.

You can expect to see increased signage on highways about these restrictions. Some tour operators will cancel reservations for out-of-region guests. 

BC Ferries also plans to contact people with existing bookings before May 25th to confirm the travel is for essential purposes. You can expect to be asked at the terminal if your travel is recreational. If it is, you can still board the ferry, but the police may be notified. 

Finally, if you reserved camping at a BC Park outside of your health region (with an arrival date before May 25th), you can reschedule or cancel your reservation free of charge.

How does travel into Canada work?

There continue to be restrictions on who can enter Canada. Foreign nationals are prohibited from entering the country except in a few specific circumstances: to reunite with family, to do essential work, to study at a designated learning institution, or for compassionate reasons.

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.

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. This includes an immediate COVID test upon landing and being required to quarantine at a government-approved hotel for at least three nights at your own cost.

On arrival, international travellers must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. (There are exemptions under certain conditions.)

Can I travel between provinces?

Domestic air travel is 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.

Everyone travelling in BC must follow the BC government's travel advisory and public health guidelines. The current travel advisory is to avoid all non-essential travel. This includes travel into and out of BC and between regions of the province. Unlike mask wearing and restrictions on social gathering, the travel advisory is not a public health order that is subject to fines for non-compliance. So, you can still get on a plane (mindful of restrictions if you have symptoms), but it should be for an essential reason.

How many people are allowed inside my home right now?

The latest public health order extended province-wide restrictions on social gatherings. Hosting social gatherings of any size indoors is restricted to your core bubble. But if your child lives away from home and is returning home from school or university, that’s OK.

What is a core bubble?

This definition has changed throughout the pandemic. 

Right now, your core bubble is your immediate household, being the people you live with (including roommates). It can also include one or two co-parent(s) who don’t live in your home.

If you live on your own, your core bubble can include up to two people you see regularly.

For those who rely on a family member or close friends for essential supports, these activities can continue. So parents can still carpool kids to and from school and grandparents can provide child care.

Can I hang out with people outside?

Yes! The latest public health order allows for up to 10 people to gather outdoors, be it at a park or beach (or other outdoor public area), or a backyard of a home. This doesn’t mean you can have 10 people on a restaurant patio.

What’s the latest with restaurants and pubs?

We’ve heard a lot of people are confused about this. And as of March 30, things changed again for at least eight weeks. Until May 25th, restaurants, bars and pubs are closed for indoor dining. Dining on a patio (if the place has one) and take out are still allowed.

Restaurants have also been reminded to follow COVID safety protocols, or they risk getting fined or shut down. Fines can run up to $2,300 per offence for businesses that don’t comply.

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

Businesses and rec centers must suspend holding most indoor and outdoor group physical activities. Gyms and recreation facilities that offer individual workouts and personal training sessions can remain open as long as they have and follow a COVID safety plan. So you may have to book a spot in advance. Check with your gym. 

Low intensity group exercises are also now cancelled until May 25th.

Also, indoor and outdoor adult sports are mostly suspended. Two people may engage in indoor sports with one another, and ten people may engage in outdoor sports with one another. In both cases, participants must maintain a distance of three metres from one another unless everyone lives in the same home.

You’re encouraged to avoid non-essential travel. So, for example, if you live in East Van and want to go skiing, Dr. Henry would encourage you to go to the North Shore and not Whistler. In fact, Whistler has now been closed due to public health concerns.

What about my kids' activities?

Youth sports (up to 21 years old) are generally only allowed for practices and drills. Extracurricular activities and programs can continue to operate with a COVID safety plan in place and must be supervised by an adult.

Performances, recitals and demonstrations are not allowed. 

Non-essential travel (for example, travelling from Vancouver to Burnaby for your kid’s soccer practice) is discouraged, but it’s not an order.

Can I go to my place of worship?

Religious in-person gatherings and worship services are suspended. You can still visit your place of worship for individual activities such as contemplation or personal prayer. There was a proposed variance to this rule, but it has been cancelled by the latest round of restrictions.

Funerals, weddings and baptisms may proceed with a limited number of people and a COVID-19 safety plan in place. A maximum of 10 people can attend, including the officiant. Receptions associated with funerals, weddings or baptisms are not allowed inside homes or venues.

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 unpaid, job-protected time off work to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Workers are also allowed to take time off to help a dependent family member receive the vaccine.

Do I have to wear a mask at work?

On the one hand, WorkSafeBC advises that employers should only consider using masks as an additional control measure if physical distancing is not possible and workers are in close, prolonged contact with others. On the other hand, the latest public health order continues to require masks to be worn in all public indoor settings, and common spaces at workplaces, like hallways, break rooms and kitchens.

So do you have to wear a mask all the time? The full answer will partly depend on your context. If you work outdoors at a safe distance from others, a mask might not be mandatory. But if you work indoors on a busy shop floor, a mask may be realistic. If you work indoors in retail, where you’re exposed to the public, a mask may be required under your workplace’s COVID safety plan. Employers have a legal duty to keep their workers safe, and will also want to ensure the public is confident in their approach to handling the virus (otherwise, they’d lose customers). Employers also have to do a daily symptom check.

That all said, if you have a medical condition that means you can’t wear a mask, your employer may have a duty to accommodate your needs. The BC human rights commissioner has guidance on this point.

Since November 19th, masks are considered the norm. But they might not be required everywhere at your workplace. It’s about striking a balance, informed by what we know about the virus. If you’re concerned about your employer requiring masks, talk to them about it. Learn their concerns with an open mind to see if it’s a compromise you’re willing to make.

Can I enter a store or business without wearing a mask?

Everyone must wear a mask in an indoor public space or retail store. You can get a $230 fine if you refuse.

People are exempt if they are unable to wear a mask because of a health condition or a physical or mental impairment. Also exempt are those who cannot put on or take off a mask themselves.

(Note that BC human rights law doesn't protect people who refuse to wear a mask as a matter of personal preference.)

Some establishments will provide masks upon entry, others won’t. You’re best off taking a mask with you when you leave home if you’re planning on going shopping.

If you have underlying health issues and can't wear a mask, inform the store clerk and see if you can reach a compromise. But recognize this may be difficult, depending on the size and type of store.

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

Strictly speaking, no. Currently, the mask mandate order is only a strong recommendation for indoor shared living spaces, like elevators or hallways. Your strata or building may have enacted their own temporary rules on this, however.

Does my child have to wear a mask at school?

On March 29, the public health guidance shifted for K to 12 schools. Students in grade 4 to 12 are required to wear masks at school in all indoor areas. This includes at desks and work stations and on school buses. There are some exceptions, such as if a student can't tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioural reasons. As well, masks can be removed temporarily to eat or drink, or to engage in activities that can't be performed with a mask (like playing a wind instrument). Full details are here (brace yourself; it's a dense read).

Students in kindergarten to grade 3 are encouraged to wear a mask indoors in schools and on school buses.

Am I entitled to know if there’s been a COVID-19 exposure at my child’s school?

Yes. Your public health authority will post information on their website if they find that a staff member or student at your child’s school has been exposed to COVID-19. They’ll post the name of the school, the date, and the type of notification (whether an outbreak, cluster, or single exposure). 

Your child’s school may also send a letter to you and the school community about the possible exposure. For privacy reasons, you won’t be given the name of the person in the school who tested positive. Nor is information given about whether they are a student or staff member.

Your public health authority will contact you directly if your child is identified as a positive COVID case or as a close contact of someone who tested positive. In that case, they’ll give you information about the next steps you can take. This includes self-isolating or monitoring for symptoms.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has general information about school exposures. To find out more in your area, take a look at your regional health authority’s website: Fraser Health, Interior Health, Island Health, Northern Health, or Vancouver Coastal Health.

Work

After being laid off when the pandemic first hit, I’m happy to be getting a full pay cheque again. But my boss hasn’t been taking COVID-19 very seriously. It doesn’t feel like my workplace is safe. What can I do?"

– Joseph, Victoria, BC

Can I refuse to work during the pandemic?

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. WorkSafeBC outlines situations where workers should not go to work.

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?

Yes, every employer in BC is required to have a COVID-19 safety plan. The plan must assess the risk of exposure at the workplace and spell out measures to keep workers safe. For example, the plan may involve limiting the number of workers on site, to ensure physical distancing guidelines are respected. WorkSafeBC explains what the COVID-19 safety plan must cover, and has a template employers can use to create their plan.

By order of the provincial health officer, the COVID-19 safety plan must be posted at the workplace and on the organization’s website.

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 lay off.

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 is a trying time for both 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 26 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).

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 26 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 26 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?

On March 23, 2020 the BC government established two new types of unpaid leave for those unable to work due to illness. An employee can now take up to three days of unpaid leave each year if they can't work due to personal illness or injury. This is a permanent change to the law. It provides job protection for illness or injury similar to what workers get in other parts of Canada. You must have been in the job for at least 90 days to qualify for this leave.

There’s also now an unpaid, job-protected leave due to COVID-19 reasons. Employees can take an indefinite unpaid leave if they’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 for other coronavirus-related reasons, such as if your employer directs you not to work due to concern about your exposure to others. The Employment Standards Branch explains who’s covered.

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?

There are no laws in BC requiring employers to give paid sick days. But many employers provide them, recognizing it’s better to let you rest and recover. You can ask your employer for extra paid sick days, but they may be feeling the crunch too and cannot afford it. We offer tips on working things through with your employer.

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 two 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.

I’ve got to take care of my kids. Will I still get paid?

It’s unlikely your employer will continue paying your salary if you can't continue to work (although it doesn’t hurt to ask). And normally, you can’t claim employment insurance benefits if you quit your job or have to take care of a family member who isn’t critically ill.

Thankfully, federal and provincial governments have made some big changes.

First, the federal government has expanded its child benefit, providing extra money for each child you have.

Plus, the Canada recovery caregiving benefit is available to working parents who must stay home to care for kids that are sick or need additional care because of school and daycare closures. This benefit provides $500 per week, for up to 26 weeks. For the details, visit the federal government’s website.

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 is new). 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. Whether COVID-19 qualifies as “critically ill” is not certain.

Plus: On March 23, 2020 the BC government introduced an unpaid, job-protected leave due to COVID-19 reasons. Someone can take an indefinite unpaid leave if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, and for a range of other coronavirus-related reasons. Workers who have to self-isolate, need to care for children or family, or were told to stay away from work by their boss will be able to take an unpaid leave without putting their job at risk. 

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.

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 has now been lifted. One protection that remains in place is you can’t be evicted for not paying rent due between March 18 to August 17, 2020, unless the landlord gives you a rent repayment plan and you don’t pay under that plan. Here are details.

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?

The province has 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. For example, 211 is matching seniors with community volunteers who can help with groceries and staying connected.

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 has made everything come to a stop. Except for my bills of course. And money is tight now. With groceries, cleaning supplies, rent, and so many other pressures, it’s hard for me to prioritize what to pay first."

– Morgan, Vancouver

The news mentioned this one-time support payment for people in BC. How does that work?

You can apply for a one-time payment of up to $1,000 for families and single parents and up to $500 for individuals. Eligibility is based on residency and income levels:  

  • You have to be a resident of BC and over 19 years old on December 18, 2020. 

  • For individuals, your net income was below $62,500 in 2019 to get the full $500 (you’ll get less up to $87,500, and nothing above that).

  • For families or single parents, your net household income (for the two parents combined) was below $125,000 in 2019 to get the full $1,000 (you’ll get less up to $175,000, and nothing above that).

So, unlike CERB, you don’t have to be out of work right now to be eligible.

You can apply online here. You can also do this over the phone (call 1-833-882-0020 M-F 7:30 am to 5 pm), but grab some snacks and get comfy as you wait on hold.

Make sure you have your 2019 tax return, SIN, a driver’s licence or ID, and your banking information for direct deposit on hand. You’ll need this information to complete the application. You have until June 30, 2021.

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 what about 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, is 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 when I’m doing my taxes?

Yes. CERB payments are 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 new benefit programs announced by the government: 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.

It’s sad to see that many of these “profiteers” try to re-sell these goods, either in person or online. But government and the business community are taking action. Several prominent retailers are refusing to allow this to happen. Some municipalities have levied fines. And BC authorities can now ticket people and businesses up to $2,000 for reselling essential goods and supplies and price gouging.

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

“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 I know going to work right now is a risk to my health and my family’s.”

– Piper, 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 until July 13, 2020. In the intervening period, there were still options for submitting an application for a grant of probate or administration. These included a secure dropbox located at the probate registry, and registered mail.

As of July 13, 2020 all Supreme Court registries are open 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.

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

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 that's having trouble paying rent. Can my landlord still make me pay rent?

First, consult your lease, and see if there’s any clause that you can point out that can relieve you of the obligation to pay rent during the pandemic. No matter what, try to keep communication lines open. Your landlord is no doubt aware of the situation. Perhaps you can defer the rent payment, or agree to just pay a part of it for a few months. 

There’s also the Canada emergency rent subsidy, a federal government program where renters or property owners can apply directly for financial assistance. (An earlier version of this program only allowed for the landlord to apply, and then give the tenant a rebate.) It provides a subsidy for up to 65% of eligible rental expenses, up to certain maximums. Learn more about the eligibility criteria, and how to apply.

If you have insurance, call your broker. It may be that you’re covered for business interruption insurance and can make a claim for compensation at this time.

As well, the Business Development Bank of Canada has financing programs for entrepreneurs impacted by the pandemic. There are interest-free emergency loans available, and loans to help small- and medium-sized businesses with cash flow.

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 which social distancing rules are suggestions and which ones are required. Some things seem to be opening up again, but not others. I'm fuzzy on who I can gather with. And what can lead to a ticket."

– Rae, Coquitlam, BC

The guidance from authorities to stay close to home and to keep two metres apart from others is strong advice, not the law. Some of the social distancing rules do have the force of law, however.

The province’s public health orders are examples. The most recent ones include orders restricting social gatherings, requiring masks in many settings, and spelling out rules for restaurants and pubs. The latter order details how establishments must limit the number of patrons, keep two metres between groups of patrons, and close off dance floors (among other measures).

The province has been cracking down on rule violations. Police and provincial bylaw officers can issue $2,300 tickets to event organizers and restaurants and pubs that break the rules. Authorities can also ticket individuals: you can get a $230 ticket for not following mask wearing requirements (among other things), or a $575 ticket for attending a non-compliant event or gathering.

Another rule that has severe penalties if you don’t follow it: If you’ve just returned to Canada from abroad, you must isolate or quarantine, depending on if you have symptoms. (The federal government website explains the difference.) You can be fined or jailed for failing to follow this order.

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 notice. 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.

Are law offices open for business?

The provincial government designated legal services and the work of lawyers, notaries, and paralegals to be essential services. Their offices can remain open, but they must follow the orders and guidance of the provincial health authorities. Like other workplaces, they must post a COVID-19 safety plan.

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, as so many have. Access Pro Bono ramped up their telephone advice service. CLAS continues to provide assistance to eligible clients, but the logistics have changed

Some providers have 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 offices, front counter services are closed. But 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 April 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

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