A detail of the downtown Yellowknife skyline in November 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
All workers affected by evacuation orders can apply for emergency leave, though there is an expectation for many employees to keep working.
All Government of the Northwest Territories workers – including summer students and casual employees – can apply for emergency leave with pay from the time an evacuation order was issued for their community, the territory told us by email.
Meanwhile, the Employment Standards Act, which covers all employees who are not federal or territorial employees or working in a federally regulated industry, also has provisions for unpaid emergency leave.
Federal and federally regulated employees may be able to take personal leave, which the federal government says may be used to “manage any urgent situation that concerns you or a family member.” The first three days of this leave are paid if you’ve been an employee for more than three months. In total, federal employees can take five personal leave days a year.
Back in July 2021, the Employment Standards Act was amended to “provide additional protection to NWT workers and flexibility to employers during the Covid-19 pandemic and future emergencies.” The amendments provide job protection and allow workers access to unpaid leave (a key difference from the GNWT’s paid emergency leave, though private-sector employers may choose to pay employees taking emergency leave).
At the GNWT, employees on annual leave or using banked lieu time, who were not physically in a community that received an evacuation order, can switch to emergency leave after their other approved leave has ended, while employees who were off work and in a community that received an evacuation order can switch to emergency leave from the date and time the order started.
GNWT employees who were previously approved for annual leave or using banked lieu time during the evacuation order are allowed to switch to emergency leave. Employees on other types of leave, like long-term or short-term sick leave or disability, maternity, parental, or education leave, or leave without pay, will stay on that type of leave unless that leave ends during an evacuation order, in which case they can also switch to emergency leave.
“If you use emergency leave with pay instead of sick leave, it is expected that you will be fit to return to duty once the evacuation is lifted,” said the GNWT.
“If you are on special leave, you may switch over to emergency leave with pay effective the date and time of that the evacuation order was issued for your community.”
The period of emergency leave ends when a GNWT employee is no longer unable to work due to the emergency, or when the emergency ends. The same goes for people accessing unpaid emergency leave through the Employment Standards Act.
The territorial government is encouraging managers and supervisors “to be flexible and supportive as employees are spread across western Canada and settling in to varying accommodations,” and says it recognizes that not all employees may have access to the resources needed to work – or may have personal issues they need to handle due to the evacuation orders.
“A message has been sent to all employees emphasizing the importance of continuing to deliver programs and services for all NWT residents and asking all employees who are safely evacuated and have the necessary equipment – a computer and internet – to talk to their supervisor about working remotely for the duration of the evacuation,” said the government.
GNWT employees without the right equipment should work with their managers to figure out what work can be completed out of the office.
The government says secure remote systems developed during Covid-19 are still in place and have better security now, and its IT staff have a “heightened focus” on monitoring for threats, given security risks may increase during emergencies.
The GNWT said had no information regarding how many of its staff from evacuated communities have been working throughout the evacuations to date.
No private business support yet
This is what finance and industry minister Caroline Wawzonek told us on Tuesday when asked about supports for private businesses:
“Business supports, financial supports – this is an area where there are Seed programs with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, which has in the past provided some supports to affected businesses. It has never been on the size or scale that we’re looking at right now. That’s all I can say at this point.
“However, you know, I’ll look back to the Covid experience. As much as I’d never like to relive that, one thing that we did have: CanNor and ITI partnered up pretty quickly and were able to find ways to develop some supports and pump a fair bit of money out into the business community.
“If you’re going to ask me, am I doing that right next? I don’t have an answer right now. But I do know that the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is actioning it.”