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COVID-19: Employer Resources and Important Updates

Over the past couple weeks there has been a tremendous amount of information coming out for employers and employees. As HR Consultants, we are working in unprecedented times and keeping up with all of the changes has been challenging! I can only imagine how difficult it is for business owners to navigate through this (while trying to keep on top of your day-to-day business requirements). Therefore, I have compiled a summary of some of the important legislative updates and relevant program changes that have been instituted that are likely to be relevant to our clients.

The Government of Canada has taken significant actions and made changes to assist both individuals and employers through this difficult time, including but not limited to:

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
Beginning in April 2020, the federal government, through the CRA, will provide an emergency benefit of up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks to the following individuals:
* Workers, including self-employed individuals, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits;
* Workers, including self-employed individuals, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits; and
* Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures and are unable to earn employment income, whether or not they qualify for EI benefits.

Changes and Improved Access for eligibility to Employment Insurance (EI)
The federal government waived the one-week waiting period for individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. The requirement to provide a medical certificate has also been waived for individuals claiming EI sickness benefits.

Emergency Support Benefit
The Emergency Support Benefit will provide payments to workers who are unemployed and are not eligible for EI, in an amount to be determined.

Extending the Work-Sharing Program for Employers
Provides EI benefits to workers who agree to reduce their working hours and share available work as a result of a downturn in business beyond their employer’s control (whether directly or indirectly related to COVID-19). These measures are as follows:
* The permissible duration of Work Sharing Agreements will be extended from 38 weeks to 76 weeks as a result of COVID-19; and
* The mandatory waiting period between Work Sharing Agreements, which must usually be equal to the number of weeks of the previous agreement up to a maximum of 38 weeks, will be waived.

Providing Small Business with Wage Subsidies
Eligible small employers (including corporations eligible for the small business deduction, non-profit organizations and charities) can receive a temporary wage subsidy for a 3-month period. The subsidy will be equal to 10% of the remuneration paid in the 3-month period up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.

A New Loan Guarantee for Small and Mid-sized Businesses
Export Development Canada is working with financial institutions so that they can issue new operating credit and cash flow term loans of up to $6.25 million.

Increasing the Canada Child Benefit
The government is providing an extra $300 per child through the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) for 2019-20. This will mean approximately $550 more for the average family.

Mortgage Support
Canadian banks have committed to work with their customers to find solutions to help them manage hardships caused by COVID-19.

Additional information on all of these programs can be found on the Government of Canada's website: Government of Canada - Economic Response Plan

Last week, the Ontario government enacted the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 which provides unpaid, job-protected leave to employees who are 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 in accordance with public health information or direction.
▪ The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace.
▪ 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 employee is prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions.
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 in accordance with public health information or direction.
The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace.
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 employee is prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions.

If an employee is requesting to take a leave from work for any of these reasons, please be advised that they do not need to provide a medical note. However, you may ask them to provide some evidence that the request for leave is reasonable given the circumstances (ie. schools are closed and they have no alternative child care options).

Please note that the act does not require an employer to pay an employee who is unable to work due to COVID-19, it just provides these employees with job protection, meaning that employers will be expected to return the employee to work at the end of the leave. For additional information about Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 please visit: Amendment to Employment Standards Act

In addition, I want to bring to your attention a few other important considerations regarding the impact of COVID-19 on your business.

Temporary Lay Off of Employees:
Under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”), employers can temporarily lay off employees for a period of up to 13 weeks (under certain circumstances, this can be extended to 35 weeks). However, unless you have a provision within your employment agreement allowing for temporary layoffs, then you will need to formally ask your staff if they agree to be temporary laid off. Your employees must agree before this option is available to you, otherwise you may be opening yourself up to a constructive dismissal claim. Please note that your employees' permission is required even if your employment agreement is silent on the issue of temporary layoffs.

If your employees do not agree to a temporary layoff, then your only alternative may be to terminate their employment and provide them with their entitlements (termination pay in lieu of notice and severance, if applicable) on dismissal. For more information regarding temporary layoffs and/or terminations, please visit: Guide to the Employment Standards Act

Reduction in Hours:
Employers who must reduce employee hours as a result of COVID-19 and the impact on their business may wish to consider taking advantage of the EI Work Sharing Program. This program was program designed "to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity that is beyond the control of the employer." Employees on a Work-Sharing agreement must agree to a reduced schedule of work and to share the available work over a specified period of time, then the employer and the employees must apply for this program together. An application for a Work-Sharing agreement must be submitted a minimum of 30 days prior to the requested start date.To learn more about the government's Work Sharing Program or to apply, please visit: Work Sharing Program

There are so many ways that you, as an employer (and as an individual), have been impacted by COVID-19 and there is just so much information is available online that it becomes overwhelming! We have been fielding a variety of questions from clients in regards to COVID-19 such as:

▪ Can an employee refuse to work, even if they are not sick, as a result of COVID-19?
▪ Can we send an employee home if we are concerned he/she is displaying symptoms of COVID-19?
▪ Do I need to pay if I am sending an employee home due to COVID-19?
▪ Can I dismiss an employee if they are unable to attend work due to COVID-19?
▪ What other plans should be in place to protect our workers health & safety?
▪ Are employees who are deemed to be providing "essential services" allowed to travel? What if they refuse?
Can an employee refuse to work, even if they are not sick, as a result of COVID-19?
Can we send an employee home if we are concerned he/she is displaying symptoms of COVID-19?
Do I need to pay if I am sending an employee home due to COVID-19?
Can I dismiss an employee if they are unable to attend work due to COVID-19?
What other plans should be in place to protect our workers health & safety?
Are employees who are deemed to be providing "essential services" allowed to travel? What if they refuse?

If your organization has questions, concerns or just needs any support in regards to your ongoing pandemic response efforts, please contact us and we would be happy to assist. We can be reached via email at: inquiries@peakperformancehr.com or by phone at 1-800-674-3471.

Keep well & stay safe...

On behalf of
Lisa Kay & Our team at Peak Performance HR

 
 
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