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Employment Alert: Federal Government Announces Meaures to Help Employers and Workers Affected by COVID-19 Crisis

Employment Law

Author: J. Geoffrey Howard and James Hsu

On March 18, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced an $82-billion aid package to assist Canadians with the impacts caused by the COVID-19 crisis.  While the details of its implementation are still being written, are subject to change as the crisis develops, and in some instances require Parliamentary approval, employers, employees and contractor workers should be aware of these new proposed measures that may assist in these challenging times. Employers should also take note of the measures to support workers, which can help mitigate the impact of lay-offs and pay cuts.

This Employer Alert may be subject to updating as events, and the law, evolve.  Please also refer to our previous post on advice for Employers Managing Risks during the COVID-19 crisis, which will continue to be updated and can be found at the following link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coronavirus-managing-risk-employees-wagestaff-geoffrey-howard/

Small Business Temporary Wage Subsidy

“Small businesses” will be eligible to receive a temporary 10% wage subsidy for 90 days, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Business will receive this benefit by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld from their employees’ pay and otherwise payable to the government.

The government has budgeted $3.8 billion for this measure and advised it can be implemented immediately, with the supporting legislation to follow.  For now, eligible businesses have been described as “corporations eligible for the small business deduction [under the Income Tax Act], as well as non-profit organizations and charities.”  Employers should stay tuned for further details, including what they will need to show in terms of maintaining jobs, once the legislated is passed. As several commentators have pointed out, a 10% subsidy may not be enough to induce small businesses to defer lay-offs so the level of support may increase.

Streamlining Access to the EI sickness benefit

For employees eligible to claim employment insurance (EI) sickness benefits, which provide up to 15 weeks of income replacement of 55% of weekly earnings up to a maximum of $573/week, the government has now waived:

In addition, employees 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

Income Support for Workers

Emergency Support Benefit

The government has proposed an Emergency Support Benefit delivered through the Canada Revenue Agency to provide workers who are not eligible for EI sickness benefits, up to $900 bi-weekly or roughly $2,000 per month (almost the same as the maximum EI benefit), for up to 15 weeks.  The stated recipients are:

We would assume there will be rules against double dipping under multiple categories and regular EI benefits.

If approved by Parliament, application for this benefit will be available in April, 2020, and those receiving it will have to confirm in writing they remain eligible every 2 weeks to keep receiving benefits.  While the proposed budget for this measure is $5 billion, we await further details on long this benefit will be available.

The EI Work Sharing Program

The existing EI Work Sharing Program provides EI benefits to employees who agree with their employers to reduce their normal working hours and wages due to temporary business conditions beyond the control of their employers. Typically, the employees agree to a reduced 3 or 4 day work week and receive EI benefit for the days missed. The government has introduced the following special temporary measures effective March 15, 2020 to March 14, 2021:

To be eligible for these temporary measures, you must be experiencing a downturn in business activity related to the global outbreak of COVID-19, and have:

*we assume this is a typo on the government’s website and that this should be “or”.

Unfortunately, the government has so far failed to abridge the existing requirement that Work Sharing plans be submitted to EI 30 days before taking effect. This should be temporarily waived given how fast employers need to respond to falling demand and other restrictions on business during this crisis. We expect efforts will be made to expedite approvals so employees can receive EI benefits promptly.

Separate eligibility requirements have been created for the Forestry, and Steel and Aluminum Sector sectors.  Further details on eligibility requirements and the application process can be found here: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/work-sharing/temporary-measures-forestry-sector.html

More Coming Soon?

We anticipate other industry or sectors such as airlines, tourism and energy etc. will negotiate for additional specific financial supports. The government may also increase the extent of its broad supports for small, medium and larger businesses. In addition, some provinces are expected to announce their own economic supports. Commentators have pointed out that the total budget for the Canadian government’s announced supports to date is a fraction, in relative terms, of what other Western nations have announced.

Conclusion

These are only a few of the “workplace’ benefits laid out in Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: Support for Canadians and Businesses.  Readers may be eligible for additional business or individual benefits under the Plan, which can be found at this link: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/canadas-covid-19-economic-response-plan-support-for-canadians-and-businesses.html#Economic_Response_Plan

For assistance or questions regarding implementing these measures, you can contact Geoff Howard at: ghoward@meplaw.ca; 604 891-1184 and/or James Hsu at: jhsu@meplaw.ca; 604-891-1158 for assistance.

MICHAEL, EVRENSEL & PAWAR LLP