The past few days have seen multiple announcements from governments across Canada. To help make things easier for employers, we summarized below those announcements that touch on workplace issues. Starting with the Federal Government, we then set out the announcements from each province, in alphabetical order.
The Federal Government
During his press conference on March 16, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged all Canadians who are currently travelling abroad to return home to Canada. He further stated that any Canadians who have travelled anywhere outside of Canada, including the United States, are requested to self-isolate for 14 days. Upon their return to Canada, those travelers will have to sign an acknowledgement at the airport or border that they have been advised of the requirement to self-isolate. As a result, employers can expect an increased number of employee absences in the coming weeks as employees return home from abroad and enter the self-isolation period.
Last week, the Federal Government announced changes to Canada's Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits to respond to concerns about COVID-19. Canadian employees that are quarantined can apply for EI sickness benefits. Service Canada has implemented the following new measures with respect to the EI program:
- Normally, an employee who qualifies for EI sickness benefits has a one-week waiting period before payments start. The one-week waiting period will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim;
- Service Canada has created a new dedicated toll-free phone number for questions related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period;
- There will be priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for employees under quarantine; and
- a medical certificate is not required in the following situations:
- when quarantine is imposed on an employee under federal or provincial legislation;
- when quarantine is imposed by a public safety officer;
- when quarantine is recommended by a public safety officer and the employee has been instructed to do so by an employer, nurse, physician or any other similar person in authority; or
- when an employee voluntarily places himself or herself in isolation because a family member or close relative with whom the employee has had contact is quarantined.
Finally, the federal Work-Sharing program - an adjustment 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 - is implementing temporary special measures for employers experiencing a downturn in business activity related to the global outbreak of COVID-19. These special measures include extending the maximum duration of the agreements from 38 weeks to 76 weeks, waiving the mandatory waiting period between agreements, and easing Recovery Plan requirements for the duration of the agreement. More information is available at this link.
The Alberta Government has recently announced plans to implement paid job-protected leave for workers affected by COVID-19.
On March 13, 2020, the Government announced that "imminent" changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code would be made to allow employees who are required to self-isolate or are caring for a loved one with COVID-19 to take 14 days of paid job-protected leave to cover the recommended self-isolation period. Additionally, typical legislative requirements to qualify for a leave of absence, such as obtaining a medical note or having worked for at least 90 days, will not be required.
The details of how these changes will be administered will likely be addressed by the legislature this week. Further updates will be provided as soon as they are available.
As of March 16, 2020, the Government of British Columbia has not announced any upcoming legislative changes with respect to employment legislation.
The Government has recommended that those who travel outside of Canada self-isolate for 14 days upon return, unless work-related travel to the United States is essential, including cross-border trucking, air transportation, and film industry employees. The Government recommends that these employees self-monitor for symptoms on a daily basis, and self-isolate if symptoms occur. The Government has also asked employers to waive the requirement for a doctor's note to take sick leave.
As of March 15, 2020, the Manitoba Government has not announced any upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation. To date, the Provincial Government has advised the following:
- Employers should review their business continuity plans and take steps to ensure employees can stay home when ill, without facing barriers such as the requirement for sick notes, and work from home if possible.
- Employers should also discontinue non-essential, work-related travel outside of Manitoba and encourage virtual meetings to reduce prolonged, close contact between individuals.
As of March 16, 2020, the New Brunswick Government has announced that all non-essential public sector employees will be ask to stay at home with pay. Further, it advised that the province is in talks with provincial unions to develop workers' mobility agreements to facilitate workers' mobility into jobs. No further comments were made with respect to any upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation.
Newfoundland and Labrador
As of March 15, 2020, the Newfoundland and Labrador Government has not announced any upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation.
As of March 15, 2020, the Nova Scotia Government has not announced any upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation, except that the province has asked employers not to ask employees for doctors' notes if they get sick or need to self-isolate.
This morning (March 17, 2020) the Ontario Government declared a state of emergency. As a result of this declaration and its associated orders, the following establishments are legally required to close immediately:
- All facilities providing indoor recreational programs;
- All public libraries;
- All private schools as defined in the Education Act;
- All licensed child care centres;
- All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery;
- All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and
- Concert venues.
This will undoubtedly affect many of your businesses. For more information on temporary layoff and other options for your employees, please see our workforce planning bulletin from earlier today.
On March 16, 2020 the Ontario Government announced it was working on changes to employment standards legislation which would include job-protected leaves for the following situations:
- an employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19;
- an employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act;
- an employee is in isolation or quarantine;
- an employee is acting in accordance with public health information or direction;
- an employer directs the employee not to work; and
- an employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19, such as situations of a school or day-care closure.
The Ontario Government has indicated that the legislation will be retroactive to January 25, 2020. No actual legislation has yet been made publicly available or introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Media reports suggest that the provinces' NDP opposition party is working with the government to put COVID-19 legislation in place on an expedited basis.
Prince Edward Island
As of March 15, 2020, the Prince Edward Island Government has advised that it will establish three special cabinet committees as part of provincial response efforts. One of the three special cabinet committees includes Labour and Social Supports. The Prince Edward Island Government has not announced any upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation.
On March 16, 2020, Quebec's Premier, François Legault, announced a new program called PATT (Temporary Assistance Workers Program), which will be implemented in the next few days. The form to be completed by workers should be available on Thursday here.
PATT applies to workers and independent contractors who are required to be isolated or who decide to isolate themselves because:
- they have coronavirus;
- they have travelled out of the country (anywhere outside Canada) and returned on or after March 12, 2020 (proof will be required, for example: passport, plane tickets, etc.);
- they have symptoms related to the flu or a cold (no need to provide a medical certificate; this will be based on good faith); or
- they have been in contact with a person who has coronavirus (requires the person to give the name of the affected individual; the affected individual's status will be verified).
If a worker or independent contractor falls into any of these categories and does not have any other sources of revenue (from their employer, an insurer, Employment Insurance or otherwise), they will be entitled to receive an amount of $573 per week from the provincial government for a maximum period of four weeks.
Other workers who are unable to work but do not fall under any of the four categories above will not be covered. For instance, workers who are unable to work because of school or daycare closures will not be eligible. The Quebec Government is waiting for the Federal Government's announcement before determining if additional measures will need to be put in place. The new program will be subject to modification depending on any measures the Federal Government may implement.
Finally, the Quebec Government asked employers not to ask for medical certificates from their employees to avoid putting more strain on the health system.
As of March 15, 2020, the Saskatchewan Government has not announced any upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation. Like other jurisdictions, employees and employers have been advised to reduce close contact between individuals and self-isolate in the event that symptoms associated with COVID-19 present.
We will continue to keep you posted as more developments occur.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.