Some Ontario realtors are still required to work in their stationary offices while the provincial government put a strict lockdown on Thursday.
While many brokerage firms are digital and work from home, others are « on the opposite end of the spectrum » when it comes to technology adoption, said Colin Simpson, CEO of the Insurance Brokers Association in Ontario, in an interview with Canadian underwriter Friday in front.
« In rural areas, where digital access may not be as efficient as in some urban areas, [insurance brokers] need to deploy more staff to ensure operations continue to work. »
Many physical paper processes are still involved in insurance, including paying checks, according to Simpson.
The Ontario government declared the new state of emergency on January 14th, which is now in effect.
This is the result of a sharp increase in the daily number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 disease since early fall. Ontario had more than 236,000 cases of COVID-19 on Jan. 14, and nearly 9,000 Ontarians have died, according to Public Health Canada. Public health officials are now warning of a high risk of running out of space in intensive care units unless more is done to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
An emergency alert regarding the province’s home order during the COVID-19 pandemic will be displayed on a mobile phone in eastern Ontario on Thursday, January 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick
As a result, everyone is now required to stay at home except for “legitimate purposes” such as medical care, grocery shopping, or going to work. The aim is to severely restrict all people’s contact with people outside their own household.
With the new Temporary Emergencies Act in Ontario, businesses must ensure that everyone who can work from home works from home.
« From what I’ve heard, there have been no challenges as to why brokers are an essential service, and I have not heard of any employees being challenged as to why they travel to a [broker’s] office, » Simpson told the Friday Canadian underwriter.
The new ordinance will apply across the province until at least February 11th.
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. First, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency, in which unnecessary jobs had to be closed. Later in the spring the restrictions were lifted somewhat (non-essential retailers were allowed to open but gatherings remained limited), but some regions went into different stages of lockdown towards the end of 2020.
The new January 14th state of emergency applies essentially the same rules across the province, Simpson noted in an interview Friday.
This is a big change for some rural businesses that weren’t previously in red or gray zones. The two colors represent alarm conditions that trigger the highest public health restrictions.
« There was a move in the rural areas to return to a somewhat normal way of life [before the new January 14 lockdown], » noted Simpson.
The State Emergency Act contains a list of jobs that are considered essential. One of the categories is financial services, including insurance, banking, credit unions, accounting, and tax services.
Simpson cited an example from the spring of 2020 as a reason a broker might need to go to an office to work instead of working from home. A customer whose property has burned down called his agent to get a copy of his policy. The broker could not access the client’s policy from home. As a result, 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 requires employers to work from home when possible.
« Previous findings from COVID-19-related workplace inspections show that the vast majority of employers and employees comply with the safety requirements of COVID-19 at work. However, when in a break room, vehicle, or not on the watch, there is a tendency to forget the importance of wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and hand hygiene. «
Feature image via iStock.com/AnjelaGr