The Federal Government has announced revisions to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Eligible applicants will now be allowed to earn up to $1,000 during each four-week cycle in which they are also collecting under CERB. In addition, the previously announced wage subsidy program for businesses (CEWS) will be online shortly to receive applications as of next Monday. Companies can calculate the amount of the subsidy right now at this link.

Salary Top Ups for Essential Workers

In addition, a new program has been announced which will provide a wage subsidy to essential service employees who earn less than $2,500 a month. Details have yet to provided. The apparent intent is to ensure that workers will be available for front line care in hospitals, long term care facilities and essential retail services.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit & Commercial Rent Assistance

Students will also be eligible to receive the sum of $1,250 per month for the months of May through to August inclusive if they are ineligible for other benefits or are unable to work due to COVID-19. This may be increased to $1,750 where the student has a dependent or a disability. This was announced on Wednesday, April 22. Details again will follow but the portal for the application will be the Canada Revenue Agency website.

Canada has also stated that there will be an additional plan to allow for commercial rental assistance. Again, details have yet to be provided but the Prime Minister’s statement was as follows:

[W]e plan on introducing the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance. This program will provide support to help small businesses with their rent for the months of April, May and June. To implement this program we have to work with the provinces and territories, as they govern rental relationships, and we hope to have more details to share very soon.

Loans for Small Businesses

The emergency loan program for small businesses has also been improved. Companies with a payroll of between $20,000 and $1.5 million in 2019 are now eligible for a loan through the Canada Emergency Business Account. The criteria previously was a payroll from $50,000 to $1 million. The loan amount remains at $40,000. Employers who repay the loan by the end of 2022 will receive forgiveness of $10,000.

Ontario Return to Work on the Horizon

As new coronavirus cases appear to be peaking in the province, the Premier has announced his intent to strike a committee to determine the process of a back to work program. There is little doubt that this will not be a “flip the switch” process but rather will be a slow and gradual easing of restrictions to allow for a carefully structured graduated return to work plan.

Return to Work After a Layoff

Employers and employees alike will have their eye on the layoff clock, whether it be 13 weeks or 35. All parties will be looking to resume full-time employment at the end of the stated lay off time. This may or may not be possible for all industries.

At the end of the day, if the employer does offer a return to employment on the same terms and conditions in good faith, there will likely be an obligation on the employee to accept this employment to mitigate a potential damages claim. This will apply whether or not the offer was made within the lay-off period, upon its conclusion or after the lay-off period has expired.

This will not necessarily eliminate all employer liabilities. As mentioned previously in the last post, there may be an issue of payment of the statutory sums due on “termination” of employment. This has yet to be determined in a real court decision in this precise context but it would seem like an expected claim.

Real-life concerns and the merits of being employed and indeed, in many cases, insured, may well rule the day over legal rights, however. Severance claims are finite, whereas employment may go on indefinitely.

When it does come time to return to work, there will be many other issues. They will include whether preference has been given to employees with no infection history or indeed to those with an infection history, who may have developed anti-bodies. Will the employer be allowed to insist on testing of employees upon their return to work? Must a returning employee have a medical clearance certificate? Or provide details of current or past infections in their residence? Can the employer introduce new workplace policy terms to promote and ensure workplace safety? Can the employer insist on the use of tracking software as is about to be released by the joint enterprise of Apple and Google?

This will be a new world in many respects. Many of these issues and others may well be addressed by the Province. Stay tuned and stay healthy.

Get Advice and Know Your Rights

The law and government programs relating to COVID-19 are changing literally by the day. This is the time to count on us to meet your need for timely and solid advice. We are here to provide real-time practical insight into the law and how it applies to your specific circumstance. For advice on this issue and all employment law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. Contact us online or by phone at 416 364 9599 to schedule a consultation.