COVID-19 Employment and Benefit Updates

As the COVID-19 health crisis continues, the provincial and federal governments continue to respond to this unprecedented chaos in real-time. The situation is an extraordinary circumstance and this is the moment to be aware of all steps that should be taken to protect your employment rights and your job security. The rules and programs are changing in real-time, so stay tuned to our blog for further details as they continue to develop.

Federal Government Announces Emergency Relief Updated

As mentioned in our most recent post, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is now open and ready for applications as of Monday, April 6. It is quite easy to apply. For those already registered on Canada.ca, funds will be paid within 3 to 5 days by direct deposit. This again applies to traditional as well as non-traditional workers who have paid into the EI program. If you are on EI, this fund is available on the expiry of the eligible EI period, should there be a coronavirus related issue such as illness or job loss. Applications can be made here. If you do not have an online account, you may apply for the account online and will receive a confirmation letter by mail shortly afterward.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits

If you are covered by workers’ compensation benefits, a claim may be possible if you have become ill due to a work-related issue. The Workers’ Compensation Board has recently issued a policy statement which states that a period of quarantine without illness will not allow for benefits. If you do need to quarantine, consider obtaining a medical certificate that you are suffering from severe mental distress due to a coronavirus-related issue, as this may be covered.

The Board is not necessarily employee-friendly. It has also issued a second policy statement saying that a worker claiming illness due to a work-related COVID-19 infection must show that the risk of contracting this disease at the workplace was “greater than the risk to the general public”. However, the employee must also show that the work “significantly contributed to the person’s illness”. Keep in mind that the focus on this claim is to show the illness came from your employment. If approved, you will receive 85% of your gross income in tax-free dollars plus certain medical expenses.

What this might mean remains an enigma. Likely a person who works is in a high-risk industry such as a hospital or a long-term care facility where there has been a high number of infections will qualify for the “greater risk” test. Similarly, a worker dealing with infected patients would surely be in a job that meets the second test. Other situations not related to the medical field or caregiving may be tougher to prove.

Keep in mind that if you qualify for workers’ compensation, you will not be able to make related civil claims, apart from a human rights case. Get advice before you take this step to apply.

Employer Emergency Relief

Be sure that your company is aware of this funding, called the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. It could save your job as it is intended to do. The Government of Canada has created a fund to encourage companies to return employees to the payroll even while the business may be suffering due to the pandemic. It is retroactive to March 15. Initially, the employer had to show a loss of 30% of its revenue. On April 8, it was announced that this was lowered to 15% for March of this year. It will return to 30% for April and May.

The sum offered is 75% of wages for those persons laid off up to $58,700 of salary to a cap of $847 per week. Employers are expected, but not mandated, to provide the balance.

Federal Government Changes Medical Leave Law

The federal government has amended the Canada Labour Code as of March 25, 2020, to allow for 16 weeks of medical leave for quarantine or recovery from infection. This also allows for leave to care for a family member who has become infected. No medical certificate is required. The employer may request a written statement confirming the reason for the leave. This is a temporary leave program and will be repealed on October 1, 2020. It is not retroactive.

The individual must provide their employer with written notice, as soon as possible, of the reason for the leave and the length of leave they intend to take.

Time to Check In for Advice

In these chaotic times, there is a lot at stake and several programs that can provide assistance. Employees may need to seek the advice of a legal professional if they are unsure whether they qualify for any of the assistance mentioned above or advice on how to proceed if they have lost their job. We will update the news of the closing of non-essential services and indeed all issues as it develops in this space. Contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a remote consultation.