Paid Vacation Changes, HR Policies Among Areas Affected by the Growing Outbreak

Small business owners aren’t known to panic in uncertain times – but they do like to be prepared.

While large Canadian companies dealing with the coronavirus outbreak have had to cancel international trips, withstand the stock market falling, and temporarily shut down thousands of stores and factories, how will the epidemic affect the payroll and HR of small businesses in Canada?

First, what is the coronavirus?

Coronavirus is defined by the World Health Organization as being “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases”. And while coronavirus is different than SARS, which killed 44 in the Toronto area during the 2003 outbreak, health experts are recommending that people be vigilant and make themselves aware of potential symptoms.

Should small business owners be concerned?

Although health officials in Canada have expressed that risk to the public is low, they have also faced questions on whether they’re handling it as well as they can, as reported by The Globe and Mail.

With airport screenings in Canada found to be ineffective and deficient during the SARS outbreak, being vigilant and ready to adapt as the epidemic unfolds is only prudent practice – and small business owners in Canada should be aware of the implications coronavirus could have on their business.

1. Remote Contractors on the Payroll Could Be Affected

If your small business has remote contractors based in China or other affected areas under lockdown, there’s a good chance they’ve been severely affected by restrictions imposed by the local governments.

This could impact a freelancer’s ability to meet commitments until such a time that restrictions are lifted, which means you may need to consider adding additional support on the payroll to ensure your business is able to maintain its current commitments and meet any upcoming deadlines.

2. Employees May Request to Alter Paid Vacation Times

Canadians are being asked to limit their non-essential travel to affected areas in China. Many businesses have created temporary internal travel bans as well.

Small business owners are only required federally to permit vacation changes under dire circumstances, but creating a work culture that’s fair and understanding is key to retaining a motivated workforce. In the event an employee has travel plans for Asia and wishes to change the dates, try to be flexible to accommodate their request for another time while also respecting your business’s needs.

And if they choose to cancel their paid vacation altogether, ensure you accurately track the amount of vacation and leave pay owed with an easy-to-use payroll solutions platform like PaymentEvolution.

3. Employees Returning from Affected Areas Should Be Granted Exceptions

Like employees looking to prevent potential exposure to coronavirus, employees with symptoms who’ve recently returned from or are about to return from China or Asia should be granted exceptions.

Rather than risking infection to your entire office staff, take precautions to grant the ability for an employee to rest or work remotely from home when returning from China or Asia until such a time that they receive clearance from medical authorities.

4. Chinese-Canadian Employees Could Face Racist Backlash

While there was no correlation between having SARS and being Chinese, that didn’t stop “racial profiling and racism during that time,” said a Toronto Chinese-Asian legal clinic director on CTV’s Your Morning

With history tending to repeat itself, small business owners in Canada should review HR policies around racism in the workplace to ensure all employees are educated and aware of appropriate behavior.

5. Prepare for Economic Ripple Effects and Potential Local Impacts

Experts are already expecting a negative economic trickle-down effect on the retail, tourism, and related service industry, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto. For companies operating in these industries, a reduction in payroll may be necessary depending on seasonal demand and other cyclical factors.

And in the event an employee is affected by coronavirus, either directly or a family member, ensure your business implements the necessary systems, processes, and software necessary to automate and centralize in the event someone integral to your operations, such as payroll or HR, were to go off sick.

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  • Sam Vassa

    With a passion for technology, Sam looks for ways to help small companies to compete and save money. He's worked in Foreign Affairs for the Government of Canada, geeked out at Digital Equipment Corp and hung out at Microsoft. He founded to help businesses like yours.