Student Work Assistance and Return to Work Issues

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
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Financial Assistance for Students

One of the many impacts of the current pandemic is expected to be a drastic reduction in summer employment available for students across Canada. The Federal Government has recently announced an initiative to assist students with summer employment known as the Canada Student Service Grant. This will promote work experience by allowing students to help their local communities during the pandemic, and in turn provide students with a grant of $5,000 for their educational pursuits in the fall. This link describes the program in more detail.

Students who are engaged in research scholarships or fellowships will be allowed further funding for a one-semester extension should this course of study normally terminate between March and August of this year. Those persons in receipt of federal research grants will also be eligible for a similar three-month extension of the present grant program.

All existing student loans have also been provided with a moratorium on repayment of interest and principal through to the end of September. This applies only to the federally-funded portion of the loan obligation.

International students are usually limited to working a maximum of 20 hours per week in Canada. This ceiling has been temporarily lifted during the crisis through to the end of August. The student must, however, be employed in an essential service industry, such as health care or the supply of food or similar critical goods or infrastructure projects.

Return to Work Issues

Ontario schools remain closed to at least the end of May. This presents work issues to millions of people across the province as childcare remains an essential question with a dramatic impact on Ontario’s workforce. The opening of schools will be an essential stepping stone to return to work initiatives.

Discussions, nonetheless, continue with respect to a gradual re-opening of certain industries. As mentioned in our most recent post, there will no doubt be a gradual and slow retraction of the restrictions and closures currently in place to avoid a second wave of infection.

Part-Time Hours

It is expected that many companies will be unable to return to full capacity and may offer less than a full work week when its doors do reopen.

This will engage several topics set out below. Given the rapid revisions to the federal and provincial laws, this cannot be presumed to continue as stated. Please remain attentive to these posts for further updates.

Employment Insurance

At the present time, a return to part-time employment will mean that you can still continue to receive fifty percent of your EI benefits for every dollar of part-time income earned. This is the rule for new income earned up to 90 percent of your prior weekly earnings. If you do return to full-time employment, no EI will be payable.

If you return to work at 4 days a week, for example, you are still eligible for this EI payment of fifty percent of EI for every dollar earned. This will, however, naturally enough, become zero for a 5 day work week. (or prior normal hours)

This is the law for both regular EI and illness benefits. You may wish to be mindful of these rules when discussing new working hours with your employer.

Canada Emergency Relief (CERB)

As mentioned in our prior post, you may earn up to the sum of $1,000 a month without a reduction in the monthly CERB payment of $2,000. Once your new income exceeds this threshold, for example, to $1,200 a month, then you are disqualified from the emergency payment. It is not a graded form of deduction, as with the EI payment. Consider this when discussing the part-time hours and income with your employer should this be a concern.

Should I Take the Lesser Hours as Offered?

This question raises many layers of issues, some legal and some practical. Often the real life issues, like paying the rent and putting food in the refrigerator, will trump the legal.

From a legal perspective, presuming no contract to the contrary, you might consider an offer of reduced hours as a termination of employment via constructive dismissal. This could allow you a termination claim of statutory severance and notice which may be as high as 34 weeks pay for a long term employee in a company with an annual payroll of over $2.5 million. It may also allow for a wrongful dismissal claim. However, bringing such a claim will also serve to end all benefits including disability insurance, apart from the minimum statutory period of up to 8 weeks.

The Practical View

A severance payment will be of a limited amount. There will also remain the challenge of finding new employment in the current economic climate. It is important to consider that a part-time offer of re-employment may well mature into a full-time paying job once again. Again, be mindful of the EI rules above. Remaining employed, even in a limited capacity, may well be the best option in today’s regrettably upside down economy.

Further, the likelihood of success in a wrongful dismissal claim presumes a company that is financially solvent. It is anticipated presently that despite many levels of emergency funds, many companies will not survive this crisis. Before you act, consider that one result of these claims may be your continued unemployment accompanied by a pretty piece of paper gathering dust on your kitchen table. It is critical before taking any drastic action to speak with an experienced employment lawyer about your options.

Get Advice

These are indeed unusual times most Canadians have never experienced before. This is not the time to be acting from instinct. We are here for our clients as this tragedy unfolds. The law is, quite literally, changing every day and we will continue to monitor and update on 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.