Employers clamp down on ‘ambiguous’ mask rules as more infections tied to workplaces

By Brett Bundale


On the factory floor, masks were optional.

Until last month, workers at TEC Business Solutions’s corrugated packaging plant in Mississauga, Ont. donned a mask, underwent a COVID-19 screening, had a temperature check and sanitized their hands but once inside and at their own stations, they could remove their masks.

“It gets really warm in there and it can be hard to breathe with a mask,” said Mike Prencipe, the chief operating officer at TEC Business Solutions. “We said if workers can physically distance, they can remove their masks.”

Then two shop workers tested positive for COVID-19, followed by two office employees.

“Everyone around them had to quarantine,” Prencipe said, noting that the bulk of the plant’s workforce had to stay home for two weeks. “We’ve now made it our own policy that if you’re in the plant, you have to wear a mask at all times.”

The small outbreak at the Ontario packaging plant illustrates how workplaces are emerging as a driving force in the second wave of the pandemic.

A growing number of infections can be traced back to workplaces, including in manufacturing, warehouse and shipping facilities, according to Ontario data on active outbreaks by setting.

The province declared a second state of emergency Tuesday amid rising COVID-19 case counts and tightened rules around masks in workplaces among other measures.

More than 10,000 workers have contracted COVID-19 due to work-related exposures, statistics from the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board show.

One of the issues that appears to be fuelling workplace infections is the lack of clarity or consistency surrounding mask-wearing rules in workplaces in Canada.

Across the country, each province and in some cases individual health units or workplace safety boards offer varying guidance on masks at work.

It’s a patchwork that can be confusing. Multiple business operators say they want to stick to the rules and keep workers safe, but have found the regulations unclear.

The  “ambiguous” messaging around mask-wearing in the workplace prompted the office manager at TEC Business Solutions to repeatedly call public health over the last several months to ensure they were following rules, Prencipe said.

“We wanted to follow the protocols and keep our employees safe,” he said. “They told us we were taking the right precautions.”

Still, Prencipe made the call to tighten the mask rules in his workplace following the December outbreak, a move that Ontario appears to have followed.

In response to the “alarming and exceptional circumstances,” the province said individuals are now required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses at all times.

Ontario is also stepping up enforcement measures. Provincial workplace inspectors are expected to focus on areas of high transmission, including break rooms, and issue tickets those not wearing a mask indoors.

Indeed, Prencipe said the virus may have been spread in either the company’s lunchroom or bathroom, spaces that both plant and office workers access.

Yet other provinces continue to only require masks in workplaces where employees are interacting with the public, or if two meters of distance cannot be maintained between workers.

In Nova Scotia, for example, the provincial mask requirement applies to spaces the public has access to  not private spaces.

“We encourage business owners/employers to set their own policies for private spaces,” Health Department spokeswoman Marla MacInnis said in an email.

Changing privacy laws will have significant implications for SME operations and risk

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For 12 years, Michelle paid more than $500 a year, thinking she would receive $250,000 in the event of Larry’s death. But there was a hitch

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CCIR sights improved disclosure for segregated funds

The Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR) published its Strategic Plan 2017-2020 on June 27 (link). The new plan outlines the priorities and initiatives of the CCIR for the next three years. However, consumer protection issues related to the sale of segregated funds—originally identified as a priority in 2014—remains a key objective for the CCIR for the foreseeable future.

The CCIR has engaged in a review to assess the regulatory framework of segregated funds to identify whether changes were necessary, particularly in light of recent regulatory reforms affecting similar investment products.

In May of 2016, the CCIR’s Segregated Funds Working Group published an issues paper for public consultation. With an emphasis on treating the customer fairly, the paper sought feedback on the potential for gaps in the current regulatory framework and the information required to ensure that customers receive helpful and meaningful disclosures.

Since the closing of the consultations on the issues paper, the CCIR has analyzed the input it has received and continued to work with key stakeholders on critical issues related to the segregated funds initiative. In the fall, the CCIR intends to publish a position paper outlining its recommendations and expectations.  The recommendations will refer to issues such as the delivery of the Fund Facts document for subsequent transactions, risk classification methodology, oversight of sales, needs-based analysis, updating of client records and know-your-product due diligence requirements.

The CCIR will also publish a prototype disclosure document, identifying minimum required information on performance as well as on fees and charges. The prototype disclosure document is expected to be released in winter 2018, following consumer opinion testing.

“Ensuring that customers have the information needed to understand not only how their segregated funds are performing, but also their full costs is of the utmost importance to us.” Anatol Monid, Chair of the Segregated Funds Working Group said.

The CCIR’s work in this area is expected to result in significant changes in the regulation of segregated funds; changes that are intended to ensure customers better understand the costs and performance of their segregated fund investments.

Further information on the segregated funds initiative is available on the CCIR’s website (www.ccir-ccrra.org).

About the CCIR:

The Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators is a national association of insurance regulators that traces its roots back to 1914. The mandate of the CCIR is to enhance insurance supervision and regulation to serve the public interest and to foster increased cooperative supervision and information sharing among regulatory authorities.

SOURCE Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR) 

For further information: Media Contact: Malon Edwards (For English media ‐ Toronto), 416-590-7536; Sylvain Théberge (For Francophone media ‐ Montréal), 514-940‐2176, 1-877-525‐0337, extension 2341

Financial reporting: Is your company ready for the new standards?

Todd Buchanan is the National Leader of Accounting Advisory Services at KPMG in Canada.

When you mention “the Big Four,” many Canadians will know you’re talking about the world’s leading accounting firms. But mention the term to the teams and leaders responsible for their companies’ financial reporting – at least over the next two or three years – and a different foursome may come up; namely, a series of IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) guidelines currently coming into force.

Why will corporate reporting groups be preoccupied? Because the complexity involved in implementing any one of these standards is unprecedented for some industries and will test the efficiency, capacity and resources of companies. Given that implementation may prove even more challenging than the first phase of IFRS in 2011 – and that regulators will require updates on progress and potential impacts – those companies that are not preoccupied with the process should become so, and quickly.

The four new standards cover a broad range of new requirements. IFRS 9 – Financial Instruments, for example, introduces changes to the classification and measurement of financial instruments, as well as to impairment provisions and hedge accounting. This will particularly affect financial institutions since they must determine how the changes affect every instrument they hold. At the same time, they will need to shift their impairment calculations from an “incurred loss” to a “projected loss” model. Finally, hedge-accounting rules are being relaxed, requiring deeper analysis of where hedging can be applied to better manage risk, a change that will affect large global companies engaged in complex risk-management strategies.

Any company with revenue will be affected by IFRS 15 – Revenue from Contracts with Customers. The standard introduces a new five-step model that takes an entirely new conceptual approach to revenue recognition (for example, by separating revenue from cash flows). Not only may the amount of revenue recognized change, but also the timing of when it’s recognized, – which will particularly affect any companies with long-term or multielement customer contracts.

With IFRS 16 – Leases, operating leases will start being recognized on the balance sheet, the opposite of the current practice. This change will have its biggest effect on large companies with a large number of leases, for example in industries such as retail, power and utilities, banks and telecommunications. Since there are a number of implementation options available, companies will have to go through their lease inventory one by one to assess what needs to be done. The transition will be data- and calculation-intensive and may require significant IT system updates, so effective resource assessment is critical.

Finally, IFRS 17 – Insurance Contracts is set to turn the insurance industry on its head with a number of fundamental changes affecting all insurers based in Canada, large and small, as well as resident foreign insurers. Changes will be seen in areas such as profit recognition, financial metrics, disclosures, data management, IT systems, processes and projections. To enhance the challenge, insurance companies will have to co-ordinate implementation with that of IFRS 9 – Financial Instruments, as the two standards will be interdependent. The resulting financial statement will look quite different and effective change management will be a key part of the process.

If addressing the impacts these four standards will have on specific financial-reporting practices isn’t enough, companies can also look forward to certain impacts outside the reporting sphere that they may not have considered. In the area of IT, for example, many companies will have to update their systems to collect, parse and analyze data in different ways. Given the calculation-heavy nature of these standards, ad hoc solutions and Excel patches simply won’t do.

Other significant impact areas include: Tax, where each standard could have specific impacts depending on the tax jurisdictions in which you operate; HR/compensation, as incentive-based compensation plans may need to be adjusted if the new standards alter the metrics currently in use; bank-covenant renegotiation, which will be required in some cases when IFRS 16 – Leases, which moves operating leases off the balance sheet, changes the asset-to-liability ratio on which borrowers’ loans are based; and investor relations, as it’s critical that investor confidence is maintained by a steady flow of communication around what impacts the new standards will have and what new information disclosures may be available.

While most Canadian companies are aware that change is coming, it’s crucial that they don’t underestimate the extent of that change or the way it may extend beyond core reporting requirements. Courting regulatory recrimination or unnecessary financial distress is hardly worth it.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Unlimited vacation: The ultimate work perk, but experts warn of pitfalls

Unlimited vacation: The ultimate work perk, but experts warn of pitfalls

By Sue Bailey


PARADISE, N.L. _ Terry Hussey has never forgotten how Sunday nights used to feel: anxious dread, before another week at a job he hated.

So when he became CEO of Vigilant Management in Paradise, N.L., a company he co-founded in 2012 to oversee construction projects, he set out to nurture a particular kind of workplace culture.

Along with flex time and lunchtime video games, he instituted an eye-catching policy unlimited vacation.

“People might think: ‘How can work get done here?”’ he said, sitting in a boardroom with bright orange walls that match the chairs. “But when it’s time to get work done, work is getting done.”

Unlimited vacation policies were first made popular in the tech sector, where companies emphasize fun, creative work cultures as a recruiting and retainment tool. Although still very much the exception across North America, they’re especially popular with workers for the implicit message they send: trust.

“I’ve found my dream job,” Todd Tremblett, who has worked as a junior project manager at Vigilant for six months, said in an interview. “You know the work that needs to be done and they trust you to do it. They don’t micromanage.

“I’m used to having someone look over my shoulder.”

The idea is to give employees firm, clear goals, and judge only whether they’re met. Such policies also have the substantial benefit to the company of removing any vacation liability from its books.

Experts say it doesn’t lead to people taking substantially more vacation  in fact, it often leads to less. Which, everyone admits, is a problem.

“People don’t just vacation whenever they want to. In fact, sometimes it almost does the opposite where people don’t actually take vacation at all because now that it’s unlimited, there’s no requirement to take it,” said Stacy Glass, a consultant with human resources firm HR Options in Markham, Ont.

“I’ve seen it go both ways.”

Glass says it is vital managers carefully track time off. Canadian laws vary among provinces, but include minimum vacation requirements _ unlike the U.S. She advises employers to consider their company’s culture and those legal obligations before trying such policies.

Mammoth HR of Portland, Ore., offered unlimited vacation as an experiment for a year starting July 1, 2014.

“People did all kinds of things,” said Nathan Christensen, CEO of the human resources firm that employs about 55 staff. “They climbed mountains … they travelled abroad.”

Christensen said workers took an average of 26 paid days off, including sick time, compared to 25 days the year before.

Even though there was no significant jump, the policy became top-rated among workers along with health insurance and a retirement savings plan. Mammoth extended it indefinitely.

“What it said to employees was, ‘You’re in control of your lives. We respect you,” Christensen said.

“We don’t think it’s right for every company. But for (those) for whom it can work, it can be a really powerful tool for employee production and retention.”

Leo Widrich, co-founder and chief operating officer of Buffer Inc., a San Francisco-based social media marketing provider, said nearby Silicon Valley is legendary for its workaholic tendencies and camaraderie. He went for three years without a vacation as the company took shape.

“To get something off the ground you have to dig in your heels and sleep under the desk,” he said from New York City.

Widrich finally took a 10-day trip to Mexico in 2014 and came back convinced that rejuvenation is key to productivity, he said.

After that, the company offered its 35 workers unlimited vacation plus $1,000 bonuses to spur them out the door.

With 82 now on staff, the cash incentive was temporarily suspended this year due to cash flow issues, Widrich said. Still, workers are offered a suggested minimum of 15 vacation days plus most bank holidays.

“We want to see people getting renewal and avoiding burnout.”

Hussey said Vigilant employees, aged 20 to 66, take on average four weeks of paid vacation a year plus “a slew of long weekends.” He has never had people take too much time away, he added.

“I have had to strongly encourage some people to take time off, but they always listen and come back refreshed.

“An employee who likes what they do, they’re happy and energized and they feel like they’ve got purpose,” he said. “They’re less likely to be sick. They’re going to have happier relationships with spouses, children, loved ones and friends.”


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