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Coronavirus: Your Legal Questions Answered

Jurisdiction: 
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed: 
October 2020
Time to read: 
30 minutes

Guidance for British Columbians during the pandemic 

The coronavirus outbreak has dramatically impacted much about our lives in a short time. We’re here to help with answers to common legal questions on work, homemoney, consumer, wills, estates & planningbusiness, and courts & legal services

Updated October 16, 2020 at 3:00 pm PT. We're updating this page regularly as developments unfold.

Life in phase 3

Things seemed to be getting back to normal(ish). But now the second wave has hit. I feel like the government has a lot of 'guidelines' and 'recommendations,' but I still feel confused about what's allowed and what isn't."

– Hugo, Vancouver

Work

After being laid off when the pandemic hit, I’ve been called back to work. As much as it’ll be great to get a full pay cheque again, I’m worried. My boss hasn’t been taking COVID-19 very seriously. It doesn’t feel like my workplace will be safe. What can I do?"

– Joseph, Victoria

Home & neighbours

"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

Money & debt

“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

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

Wills, estates & planning

“Writing a will has moved from my should-do list to a top priority. I’m providing childcare for kids of essential workers, and more kids are returning to care as restrictions lift. 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, Lynn Valley

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

Courts & legal services

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. Where can I find out what is allowed?"

– Rae, Coquitlam

Other resources

Courthouse Libraries has set up a wiki page aggregating coronavirus resources, featuring hotline numbers and changes to legal services.

PovNet lists coronavirus resources impacting government benefits, health, housing, and money issues. They are also tracking service changes for advocates and frontline legal assistance programs across the province.

Legal Aid BC continues to provide services over the phone at 604-408-2172 or 1-866-577-2525. You can also visit their website for a list of service locations and their phone numbers. Their legal information outreach workers can provide information by phone on coronavirus-related legal issues. On Legal Aid BC's Family Law website, they’ve posted Q&As on coronavirus and family law issues and expanded the hours of their LiveHelp chat service.

Justice Education Society is helping 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 10 am and 2 pm Monday to Friday. They've also launched a website with COVID-19 legal information.

Mediate BC is offering a Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service. This "low-bono" online mediation program helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic. For example: difficulties landlords and tenants have with paying rent, challenges for roommates or neighbours who are now sharing space much more than usual, or businesses that need to manage layoffs or work from home arrangements. Fees are on a sliding scale, based on the annual income of each party.

People’s Law School has trusted information on everyday legal issues that are heavily in play during the coronavirus outbreak. We’ve linked to a few of our pages above; you can check out our full resources on work, money & debt and consumer issues.

Guidance for British Columbians during the pandemic 

The coronavirus outbreak has dramatically impacted much about our lives in a short time. We’re here to help with answers to common legal questions on work, homemoney, consumer, wills, estates & planningbusiness, and courts & legal services

Updated October 16, 2020 at 3:00 pm PT. We're updating this page regularly as developments unfold.

Life in phase 3

Things seemed to be getting back to normal(ish). But now the second wave has hit. I feel like the government has a lot of 'guidelines' and 'recommendations,' but I still feel confused about what's allowed and what isn't."

– Hugo, Vancouver

What’s the latest with restaurants and pubs? The rules seem to be changing every few weeks.

The BC government summarizes the latest rules in various sectors during “phase 3” of the restart plan. As of October 9, nightclubs are closed. Restaurants and pubs must stop serving liquor by 10 pm. Their guests can dine in groups of up to six people, and must be two metres from other tables and groups. There are various other restrictions, including on the volume of music or TVs (no louder than normal conversation) and no table hopping or dancing.

How many people are allowed in my house right now?

We wish we could just give you a number and end this answer here.

But there are no strict rules about this right now in BC. The government recommends that your social group (whether hanging out inside or outside) be limited to five to 10 people outside of your household members. And if someone in that group is feeling unwell, you’re cautioned not to have them over.

We know having people inside is more risky. Dr. Henry has been pretty clear on “few faces, bigger spaces,” since the virus is less efficient at spreading outdoors. If you want to have people inside, use common sense:

  • Do you live in a small apartment? Perhaps don’t invite 10 people over for a dinner party.
  • Do you have a patio or other outdoor space? Try to spend as much in-house social time there.
  • Did your potential visitors just fly in from another province? Maybe meet at the coffee shop next door.
  • Did you remind everyone to wash their hands when they arrive? It may feel like nagging, but hand washing is huge in limiting the spread of the virus.

It’s a challenging time for a lack of clarity. A strict “you can only have X people maximum in your house right now” rule would provide certainty, but it would also remove our ability to manage our lives as we see fit while the virus is relatively contained in our province.

Have a look at BC’s social planning guide for more on planning a gathering at this time.

Do I have to wear a mask at work?

If you work in a non-health care setting, then often the answer will be no. 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. 

So if you’re working on a busy shop floor or industrial setting, a mask may be realistic. If you’re working in retail, where you’re exposed to the public, a mask may be realistic. 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).

If you have a medical condition that means you can’t wear a mask, you should let your employer know and provide appropriate back-up from your healthcare provider.

Like most of the health directives in BC, there’s no hard and fast rule here. 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.

Does my child have to wear a mask at school?

The BC Centre for Disease Control has released guidance for K-12 (brace yourself, it’s a dense read). To summarize — the government doesn’t require kids to wear masks at school. It encourages proper physical distancing instead, and that schools have masks on hand in situations where students become ill.

There are situations where the BCCDC says “masks may be useful.” For example, for middle and secondary students on a school bus. Or for middle and secondary students in common areas when students are outside of their cohort (more on what a cohort is here, on page 9) and physical distancing cannot be practiced.

Elementary school students are not recommended to wear masks at any time, given masks make it more likely they’ll touch their face and eyes and take it off. 

Keep in mind: these are guidelines. Your school may still require that students wear masks. If that’s the case, you can try to speak with a school administrator to understand the school’s rationale: Is it impossible to physically distance? Is it impractical for students to be placed, both during and out of the classroom, in manageable cohorts? 

We know people want the best for their kids, but keeping an open mind at this time is important — schools have had to adapt very quickly here. 

For more details on measures taken at schools, check out the CDC’s FAQ (their search function is excellent!).

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:

Work

After being laid off when the pandemic hit, I’ve been called back to work. As much as it’ll be great to get a full pay cheque again, I’m worried. My boss hasn’t been taking COVID-19 very seriously. It doesn’t feel like my workplace will be safe. What can I do?"

– Joseph, Victoria

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 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 hazard. WorkSafeBC 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.

I’ve heard workplaces must have a COVID-19 safety plan. What is that?

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.

A workplace does not need a formal safety plan in place to begin operation, but employers are expected to develop the plan while protecting the safety of their workers.

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?

Emergency government programs are available to workers affected by the pandemic. The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is a $2,000 payment every four weeks, for up to 28 weeks. It's available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also available to workers eligible for employment insurance regular or sickness benefits, and those who have recently exhausted their EI benefits.

Those approved for the Canada emergency response benefit can also get the BC emergency benefit for workers, a one-time $1,000 payment.

We have guidance to help with figuring out which benefits you’re eligible for. We walk you through the factors in play and the steps to take action.

Note that in August, the federal government announced plans to transition to a simplified employment insurance program in late September, to provide income support to those who remain unable to work due to the pandemic. Make sure to check back later on this development.

How do I apply for the emergency benefits everyone’s talking about?

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is a key support for workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether CERB or employment insurance, to start the application on the CERB portal. The portal guides you through a set of questions, and routes you to where you submit your benefits application.

As well, if your ability to work has been affected by the outbreak, you can apply for the BC emergency benefit for workers. This is a one-time $1,000 payment.

I was told my layoff was just “temporary.” What does this mean?

A 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 contract. The 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. In addition to employment insurance, you may be eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB). It provides $2,000 every four weeks, for up to 28 weeks. It’s available to (among others) workers who still have their job but aren’t working or whose hours have been cut due to the coronavirus outbreak. The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether EI or CERB, to start the application on the CERB portal.

As well, workers affected by the pandemic can apply for the BC emergency benefit for workers. This is a one-time $1,000 payment.

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.) Or, if your work hours are substantially cut, you can apply for the Canada emergency response benefit. The CERB benefit provides $2,000 every four weeks, for up to 28 weeks. It’s available to workers who currently earn no more than $1,000 per month.

The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether EI or CERB, to start the application on the CERB portal.

As well, be aware that those approved for CERB can apply for the BC emergency benefit for workers. This is a one-time $1,000 payment.

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

On March 23, 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.

Plus: the province is advising employers they must excuse workers for sick leave without requiring a doctor’s note, where workers are ill or required to self-isolate due to 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. As well, the Canada emergency response benefit is available for (among others) workers who are sick with COVID-19. It provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to 28 weeks. The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether EI or CERB, to start the application on the CERB portal.

Also be aware that those approved for CERB benefits can apply for the BC emergency benefit for workers. This is a one-time $1,000 payment.

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.

For those who aren’t covered by EI, the new Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is a game changer. The CERB benefit provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to 28 weeks to those who have stopped working for reasons related to the coronavirus outbreak. It’s available to self-employed people (including contract workers) who would not otherwise be eligible for EI.

The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether CERB or EI, to start the application on the CERB portal.

Note as well that those approved for CERB benefits can apply for the BC emergency benefit for workers, a one-time $1,000 payment .

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 an extra $300 per child, per year.

Plus, the new Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is available to working parents who must stay home without pay to care for kids that are sick or need additional care because of school and daycare closures. This benefit provides $2,000 every four weeks, for up to 28 weeks. You can apply on the CERB portal.

As well, those approved for CERB benefits can apply for a $1,000 emergency benefit from the BC government.

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, 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 a personal characteristic, 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 you. But 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 & neighbours

"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

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

From April to August, a BC government program offered temporary rent support for those who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic. That program has ended. Renters who are 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 has introduced a rent repayment framework.

The government has also frozen rent increases until December 1, 2020. Landlords can still notify you of a rent increase, but it can only come into effect after December 1, 2020.  

It’s important to understand that, as a renter, you still have to pay rent. The ban 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 mortgage, there 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.

And there are additional cash supplements for those on disability or income assistance, or the senior’s supplement. An extra $300 is automatically being added to their cheques from April to December. Also, if you apply for EI or emergency benefits at this time, income tax won’t be clawed back.

For vulnerable segments of the population, authorities are relaxing some of the rules. For example, the province has 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 & debt

“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

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

Between March and June, 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 and waiving late payment fees 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?

Emergency measures are in place to help people on income or disability assistance and low-income seniors. Those on provincial assistance programs and not receiving employment insurance (EI) or the new Canada emergency response benefit are getting extra money from the province. They automatically receive a $300 supplement on their assistance cheques between April and December.

As well, during the pandemic, the province has stopped deducting employment insurance 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 has also placed a six-month interest-free freeze on all Canada student loans, from March 30 to September 30, 2020. No payment will be required and interest won’t add up during this time. Students don’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 is also raising maximum amounts for student grants and loans

What are the deadlines for income tax during this time?

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government adjusted the income tax deadlines for taxpayers. They extended the due date for filing 2019 tax returns to June 1, 2020. And taxpayers have until September 30, 2020 to pay any 2019 income tax amounts owed.

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

I’ve heard there are scams related to COVID-19. Is this true?

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.

I’ve noticed people are selling things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer online at crazy prices. Is this legal?

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 have introduced flexible cancellation or rebooking policies at this time. 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. 

What’s the situation with travel restrictions?

Canada has an official global travel advisory in effect: Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice. And avoid all travel on cruise ships outside Canada.

Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada from abroad must isolate or quarantine for 14 days, depending on if they have symptoms. (The federal government website explains the difference between isolating and quarantine.)

As of March 30, domestic 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.

All foreign nationals are prohibited from entering Canada for non-essential travel. The restriction on all non-essential travel at the Canada-US border has been extended until October 21, 2020.

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, estates & planning

“Writing a will has moved from my should-do list to a top priority. I’m providing childcare for kids of essential workers, and more kids are returning to care as restrictions lift. 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, Lynn Valley

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, check out our page on 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. These will depend on your particular circumstances, but may include:

  • preparing your will right away (we’ve got fresh guidance on this during the pandemic)
  • 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?

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, in-person court registry services were suspended until July 13. In the intervening period, there were still options for submitting a probate or administration application. These included a secure dropbox located at the probate registry, and registered mail.

As of July 13, 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 estate. 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, up to $40,000 (apply through your primary financial institution). Initially, one of the requirements was that a business must have paid out at least $20,000 in 2019 to its employees. On June 26, 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.

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. 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 has had to close. 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. You can also remind them about the government’s Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program, which provides forgivable loans to landlords who agree to reduce their tenant’s rent. Commercial landlords can apply for this program here.

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 (up to $40,000), 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 & legal services

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. Where can I find out what is allowed?"

– Rae, Coquitlam

Can I get in legal trouble if I don’t practice “social distancing?”

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. These include an order prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people, and an order requiring restaurants and pubs to take measures to physically distance groups of patrons. The latter order spells out how establishments must keep two metres between groups of patrons and take other steps to keep patrons safe.

The province is starting to crack down on rule violations. In August, they brought in measures giving police and other provincial enforcement officers the ability to issue $2,000 tickets for organizers of public gatherings that break the rules. Authorities can also now give $200 tickets to people not following the rules at large gatherings or in businesses during the pandemic. 

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?

Courts in BC have been resuming operations gradually. 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's an exception for builders' liens claims.) The suspension will continue until 90 days after the state of emergency regarding the coronavirus ends.

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.

What about legal aid?

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.

Can I still access low-cost or free legal services?

Yes, but they are adapting their services at this time. Access Pro Bono is ramping up their telephone advice service. CLAS continues to provide assistance to eligible clients, but the logistics have changed. PovNet is tracking service changes for advocates province-wide

Some providers have launched new services to respond to the crisis. For example, Mediate BC is offering 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 you can still register property sales and other title interests through their online services.

Other resources

Courthouse Libraries has set up a wiki page aggregating coronavirus resources, featuring hotline numbers and changes to legal services.

PovNet lists coronavirus resources impacting government benefits, health, housing, and money issues. They are also tracking service changes for advocates and frontline legal assistance programs across the province.

Legal Aid BC continues to provide services over the phone at 604-408-2172 or 1-866-577-2525. You can also visit their website for a list of service locations and their phone numbers. Their legal information outreach workers can provide information by phone on coronavirus-related legal issues. On Legal Aid BC's Family Law website, they’ve posted Q&As on coronavirus and family law issues and expanded the hours of their LiveHelp chat service.

Justice Education Society is helping 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 10 am and 2 pm Monday to Friday. They've also launched a website with COVID-19 legal information.

Mediate BC is offering a Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service. This "low-bono" online mediation program helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic. For example: difficulties landlords and tenants have with paying rent, challenges for roommates or neighbours who are now sharing space much more than usual, or businesses that need to manage layoffs or work from home arrangements. Fees are on a sliding scale, based on the annual income of each party.

People’s Law School has trusted information on everyday legal issues that are heavily in play during the coronavirus outbreak. We’ve linked to a few of our pages above; you can check out our full resources on work, money & debt and consumer issues.

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