Canadian Underwriter

How stay-at-home order impacts Ontario brokers

January 15, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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Some Ontario brokers still need to work in their bricks-and-mortar offices amid the strict lockdown imposed Thursday by the provincial government.

Although many brokerages are digital and have staff working from home, others are at the “opposite end of the spectrum” in terms of technology adoption, Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario CEO Colin Simpson suggested to Canadian Underwriter Friday in an interview.

“In the more rural areas, where digital access is maybe not as efficient as it is in some of the more urban areas, [insurance brokerages] need to have more staff in place to make sure the operations keep functioning.”

A lot of physical paper processes are still involved in insurance, including paying claims by cheque, said Simpson.

The Ontario government declared a new state of emergency Jan. 14, now in effect.

This is a result of a sharp increase, since early fall, in the daily number of people testing positive for the COVID-19 disease. Ontario had more than 236,000 cases of COVID-19 as of Jan. 14, and almost 9,000 Ontarians have died, according to Public Health Canada. Public health officials are now warning of a high risk of hospitals running out of space in intensive care units unless more is done to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

An emergency alert regarding the province’s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic is viewed on a cell phone in Eastern Ontario on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

As a result, everyone now must remain at home with exceptions for “permitted purposes” such as medical care, grocery shopping or going to work. The aim is to severely limit the contact everyone has with those outside their own household.

Ontario’s new temporary emergency law means businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.

“From what I have heard, there have been no challenges as to why brokers are an essential service, and I have not heard of any staff being challenged as to why they are travelling to [a brokerage] office,” Simpson told Canadian Underwriter Friday.

The new order is in effect throughout the entire province until at least Feb 11.

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic Mar. 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization. Initially the Ontario government declared a state of emergency that required non-essential workplaces to close. Later that spring, restrictions were somewhat lifted (with non-essential retailers allowed to open but with caps on gatherings remaining), but some regions went into various stages of lockdown towards the end of 2020.

The new state of emergency Jan. 14 essentially applies the same rules province-wide, Simpson noted Friday in an interview.

This is a big change for some businesses in rural areas that were not previously in red or grey zones. The two colours represent states of alert that trigger the highest level of public health restrictions.

“In the rural areas, there was a move to get back to a somewhat normal way of existing [before the new Jan. 14 lockdown],” Simpson observed.

The provincial emergency law has a list of workplaces considered essential. One of the categories is financial services, including insurance, banks, credit unions, accounting, and tax services, among others.

Simpson gave one example from early 2020 as reason why a broker might have to go into an office to work, as opposed to working from home. A client whose property burned down called their broker to get a copy of their policy. The broker could not access that client’s policy from home, so the broker had to physically travel to the office to get a copy of the policy, confirm coverage was in place, and help arrange emergency funding from the insurer for the client.

The Ontario government explained why it is mandating employers to have people work from home if possible.

“Evidence gathered from COVID-19 related workplace inspections to date shows the vast majority of employers and workers are following COVID-19 safety requirements when working. However, when in a break room, a vehicle, or not on the clock, there is a tendency to forget about the importance of wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and hand hygiene.”

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