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Omicron & Labour Shortages: Employer Advice on Creating a Contingency Plan


As the Omicron variant sweeps across Canada and the world, most jurisdictions are reporting record-breaking daily case numbers. Employers across many sectors are facing staff shortages as their employees fall ill and are required to isolate.

While British Columbia faces labour shortages across many sectors, such as healthcare and education, Alberta is facing staff shortages across the public sector – namely in the City of Calgary – and in daycares, hospitals, and the airline industry.

Long-term care homes in Ontario are dealing with staff absences of between 20% and 30% in some areas hit hard by COVID-19. Outbreaks were reported in 186 homes – nearly 30% of all those in province – across 30 of the province’s 34 public health units.

Despite all three provinces reducing the isolation period to only 5 days for the fully vaccinated and 10 days for the partially and unvaccinated to ensure a quick return to daily life, Omicron is still wreaking havoc on businesses.

In a press conference on January 4, 2022, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr Bonnie Henry, advised BC employers to prepare a contingency plan to be able to operate in a scenario where a third of their workforce may be off work at the same time due to COVID-19. On January 7, 2022, the province issued an order requiring employers to re-activate their COVID-19 Safety Plans.

Businesses in Ontario and Alberta should also have a contingency plan in place to prevent closures due to labour shortages related to COVID-19.

What is a business contingency plan?

A business contingency plan is an action plan prepared in anticipation of an event that may disrupt normal business operations. The procedures set down in the contingency plan are intended to ensure the business stays open despite the event. Its purpose is to anticipate possible risks and challenges a business might face during an emergency and provide alternatives to reduce the impact of the disruptive event.

What are some things to keep in mind when creating a contingency plan for operating amid Omicron?

Though the finer details of a contingency plan would vary according to your business and industry, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when preparing a backup operational plan for your business.

Review your COVID-19 health and safety measures

While the purpose of a contingency plan is to function with a limited staff, you should make all possible efforts to avoid such a scenario in the first place. Review your COVID-19 health and safety measures and identify areas for improvement. Ensure all employees follow masking, physical distancing, and sanitizing protocols. If the nature of your business does not allow for remote work or if you provide an essential service, make sure you use Plexiglass barriers to protect public-facing staff, and stagger start times, work shifts and lunch breaks to minimize risk of virus spread. Follow all provincial public health orders and keep track of any updates.

Shortlist key services

Identify your core services and critical employees/roles. Ask yourself which services would you be able to continue with limited staff? Could you switch to taking online orders only? Or offer curbside pickup? Would reducing your work hours or workdays make it easier?

Train substitutes for key roles

Cross train employees so that if your staff handling key services get sick, you have employees ready and trained to step in and take charge. Make sure the deputies have all necessary information, data, and training to be able to execute the critical roles.

Have a communication plan in place

Designate a point person for addressing all internal queries from staff. Update your sick leave policies and share them with your staff. Assign a staff member with the responsibility to communicate any modification in your services or hours of operation to your customers and vendors. This also includes updating your social media pages and website with the new operating hours/services.

Utilize government financial assistance programs

The Federal and provincial governments have rolled out grants to assist with costs such as rent, utilities and maintenance, staff wages, etc. If your business operations have been impacted by local lockdowns or operating capacity restrictions implemented due to Omicron spread, you can apply for new support programs. Read our blog on the new Federal COVID-19 support programs for more details.

The Federal government has also extended two temporary income support programs for employees (Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit) until May 7, 2022. You can read more about these programs in our blog here.

With a proper contingency plan in place, businesses should be able to successfully cope with employee absences and continue operations.

Do you need help creating COVID-19 policies for your workplace?

Our experts can help you create COVID-19 policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety or employee management advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 247-3652.