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Pedestrians stand outside a closed Hudson's Bay store in Toronto on Dec. 10, 2020.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Globe and Mail

Hudson’s Bay Co. is permanently laying off more than 600 workers across Canada amid ongoing store closures due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Nearly half the company’s department stores remain temporarily closed, said Tiffany Bourre, a spokeswoman for the iconic retailer.

“The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on non-essential retailers,” she said in an emailed statement.

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“Due to these circumstances beyond our control, the company has had to make adjustments which have resulted in a reduction in workforce.”

The permanent layoffs represent less than five per cent of the company’s total workforce, Bourre said.

She added that it was “an incredibly tough decision” and that HBC is committed to treating each individual affected with fairness and respect during these difficult times.

Yet employment lawyer Lior Samfiru said his firm has been contacted by about 40 HBC workers concerned about the terms of their termination.

Samfiru, a partner with Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said the terminated workers he has spoken with claim they are not being offered adequate severance, and such a situation could be considered a wrongful dismissal.

The employees have received a so-called working notice, he said, which means they are expected to work until their termination date.

Yet he calls such a notice when stores aren’t open and employees can’t work “absurd,” and said HBC should be providing payment in lieu of notice.

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Samfiru said his law firm will be engaging HBC on behalf of terminated employees to ensure “they get what they’re owed.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Meanwhile, he said the workers, both part-time and full-time, have worked for the retailer for between 10 and 30 years, predominantly in sales and middle management at stores in the Toronto area, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.

He says some workers have mentioned specifically a “national restructuring.”

Non-essential retailers have been hammered during the pandemic, with stores across the country closed or facing strict capacity restrictions.

Last month, HBC asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to review the province of Ontario’s decision to temporarily close non-essential retailers.

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A lawyer for the department store retailer said the province’s regulations make no “rational distinction” between the department store and some of the big box and discount retailers which are allowed to remain open.

The court dismissed HBC’s bid to amend Ontario’s retail lockdown rule, but questioned what it called the “wisdom and efficacy”' of the province’s lockdown measures.

In its decision, a panel of the court’s judges said allowing big box stores that happen to sell groceries to remain fully open — potentially generating more customer traffic — is “open to question.”

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