Changes to Employer Subsidies & Obligations Due to COVID-19

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
A cornfield representing the agriculture industry which relies on temporary foreign workers
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The employer wage subsidy as provided by the Federal Government was described in our post of April 24. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) was intended initially to run from March 15 to June 6, however, it has now been extended to August 29. The subsidy applies not only to returning and current employees but also to newly hired workers.

The terms have also been expanded to allow for greater employer eligibility; a full list of eligible employers can be viewed here. Many small employers may not be aware of the specifics of the program, particularly today as there are so many changing terms and conditions on employment issues at all levels of government.

The basic subsidy remains at 75% of the weekly wage to a cap of $847 per week. The rules, however, to determine this sum have also been made more liberal to allow for an easier application process for seasonal employees and those persons on leave from January 1 to March 15. The federal government is bending over backwards to extend these grants (it should be noted that these are, indeed, grants, and not loans).

Paid Sick Leave Next?

There is no paid sick leave program presently mandated under Ontario law. Some employers do offer some form of paid short term sick leave voluntarily. Federal employees are allowed three paid sick days per year, however, three months of consecutive employment is required in order to qualify.

The federal government is now in discussions with the provinces to grant employees across the country up to 10 paid sick days per year at full salary. Manitoba, B.C. and the Yukon have already committed to this proposal.

The intent of the plan is to allow employees greater freedom not to report to work when they are showing symptoms of illness, and not put them in the position of going to work sick or paying their bills. No doubt there may be some abuse of such a program, but the greater good is the evident goal. Especially in light of the threat of COVID-19, employees attending work while sick has become a particular concern.

It is not yet clear how this program will be funded, or if it will be mandated as an employer-provided benefit. Stay tuned to this page for further developments.

At the present time, Canada has allowed EI to be paid without the one week waiting period for persons who are ill due to the coronavirus. There is no need for a medical note. However, these are temporary measures. The maximum EI benefit now is $573 per week, which is based on 60% of the insured income cap of $54,200 annually.

Additional Pay for Front Line Workers

The Ontario Government has required employees in critical positions receive an additional $4 per hour in salary and a further $250 per month over and above their normal compensation when working over 100 hours a month. This law is in effect for the time period from April 24 to August 13. Management staff are not eligible.

Eligible workers include health care workers in acute hospitals and long-term care homes. Also covered are auxiliary staff such as custodians, housekeeping and laundry staff. In addition, employees in social services workplaces are eligible. The list also provides for public health nurses, addiction and mental health workers. This will provide additional compensation for 350,000 essential workers. The full details are here.

Temporary Foreign Workers

Foreign workers are generally allowed the right to work temporarily in Canada and are relied upon in particular by the agriculture industry during the summer growing season. Temporary foreign work permits are specific to a single employer and the process to apply for a permit with a new employer is tedious. As many such employees are at a higher risk of termination due to economic hardships, the federal government has announced steps to ease the process to secure a new work permit.

Effective immediately, these workers can now benefit from a new temporary policy which will allow them to secure a new position with a new employer through a preliminary approval and to start this new employment as their work permit application is being processed. The approval process is predicted to take 10 days for this preliminary acceptance. Full details are at this link.

Times are Indeed Changing

As all levels of government deal with this crisis, the rules are clearly changing as we speak. Stay alert and on top of the curve.  Come in and talk with us if you are unsure about how these changes apply to you. We will continue to update the all news as it develops in this space.

Contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can guide you through the issues, help you understand your rights, and defend your position. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.