Government Support for Employers & Workers during COVID-19 Crisis
From an Ontario Government Standpoint
The provincial government has announced its intention to introduce legislation that, if passed, would immediately provide job-protected leave to employees in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, or those who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day care closures.
The proposed legislation would, if passed, provide job protection for employees unable to work for the following reasons:
- The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19.
- The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
- The employee is in isolation or quarantine.
- The employee is acting in accordance with public health information or direction.
- The employer directs the employee not to work.
- The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure.
The proposed legislation would also make it clear that an employee will not be required to provide a medical note if they take the leave.
The measures would be retroactive to January 25, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario.
From a Federal Government Standpoint
NEW – Announced on March 18th 2020:
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a $82-billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses, including income supports, wage subsidies and tax deferrals amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
- Canada and the U.S. have agreed to close theeir border to non-essential travel.
- Workers who don’t qualify for employment insurance (EI) can apply to receive the just announced Emergency Support Benefit of up to $900, bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks.
- Applicants can include those who are placed in quarantine or have to self-isolate, those who are ill with the coronavirus infection, and those who must stay home to care for someone with COVID-19.
- The program is also for those who must stay home from work to care for children and those who are without paid sick leave or similar workplace accommodation.
- The federal government will provide up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses, plus $55 billion to meet the liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax deferrals to help stabilize the economy.
- The response plan includes longer-term income support for Canadians who lose their jobs or face reduced hours as a result of COVID-19’s impact.
- More details pertaining to the above will be unveiled over the next few days.
Employment Insurance (EI) – Employers with COVID-19 Affected Employees Can Consider The Following:
If your company does not have paid sick/personal emergency leave days to cover employees with potential symptoms for the self-Isolation period, you could issue an ROE so they can claim EI sickness benefits. Note there is a special toll free number that is set up to handle these cases.
For eligible claimants who are unable to work because of illness, injury or placed in COVID-19 quarantine, Service Canada is ready to support with the following actions:
- The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
- Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period.
- Priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for clients under quarantine.
- People claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine will not have to provide a medical certificate.
- People who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.
Have your employees contact the new dedicated toll-free phone number if they are in quarantine and seeking to waive the one-week EI sickness benefits waiting period so they can be paid for the first week of their claim:
- Telephone: 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free)
- Teletypewriter (TTY): 1-800-529-3742
Refer here for more information on EI sickness benefits due to COVID-19 – https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/corporate/notices/coronavirus.html
For Employers with Employees NOT AFFECTED by COVID-19, But Who Are Unable to Work From Home Due to the Nature of Their Job Functions
- Public Health Authorities have not issued mandatory closure notices for ALL businesses.
- You have the option to review internally and try to apply the Work Sharing Program that has been extended to businesses due to the COVID-19 situation (Typically reserved for certain sectors of industry).
- Work-Sharing (WS) is an Employment Insurance (EI) program that helps employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary decrease in business activity beyond the control of the employer.
- The program provides EI benefits to eligible employees who agree to reduce their normal working hours and share the available work while their employer recovers.
- The goal of the program is for all participating employees to return to normal working hours by the end of the agreement.
- The employer and the employees (and the union, if applicable) must agree to participate in a WS agreement and must apply together. It is important to understand the WS program eligibility before applying. Please read all the information provided in this document and discuss it with your employees by providing them with the Employee Guide.
- More Info here – https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/work-sharing/guide-applicant.html#ha
- If this program is not feasible or if employees just want to stay home as a precaution they may be eligible to apply for the newly announced Emergency Support Benefit outlined above.
No Other Choices…..
Employers who have no other alternative may be considering conducting a temporary layoff … Please note that this is not an automatic right for employers and a pre-exisiting employment contract/agreement with the employee must have the layoff right for the employer stated clearly. If this is not the case and a layoff is forced upon employees, it may result in a constructive dismissal claim with the ministry of labour (Ontario).
In the absence of layoff rights for the employer stated in a contract on employee acknowledged company policy, the employer may consider drawing up a temporary layoff agreement for impacted employees. This agreement must adhere to rules outlined in Ontario’s ESA, and must be reviewed and accepted by the employees in question. Once the employer has your employees agreementfor the temporary layoff, it will need to be operated as per the previously mentioned rules.
Please contact us for support on this as necessary.
Final Thoughts –
Please Note that the above information is current as of noon March 18th, 2020 and may change based on additional measures the federal and provincial govts. might announce in terms of additional support for Canadians due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Stay Safe. Please feel free to contact us if you need additional support.