COVID-19 created severe financial hardships for many employers, including restaurants and bars that had to reduce business hours or close during public health-mandated lockdowns. Other businesses faced difficulties related to transitioning their employees from working in the office to remote work.

Workers who were temporarily laid off due to COVID-19 were able to access the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) last year. The federal government implemented CERB to help employees through the pandemic. Employees could also receive assistance through programs like the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.

In addition to the financial relief programs for workers, efforts have been made to assist employers struggling through the hardships caused by COVID-19. An example of one such program created by the federal government is the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which subsidizes employee wages for employers who experienced certain amounts of revenue loss during the pandemic. Similarly, the Ontario government created several time-limited grant programs to aid struggling employers.

Ontario Government Announces New Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Relief Program

On October 6, the Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development announced that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is cutting premium rates in 2022 by $168 million. This change will bring the total reduction in WSIB premiums to $2.4 billion since 2018.

Additionally, the government stated that it will be introducing legislation to distribute a large amount of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s reserve (currently valued at $6.1 billion) to safe employers. This requires an introduction of new legislation that would require the WSIB to return excess funds to employers when its surplus reaches 125 per cent, with the ability to do so earlier.

Also proposed are measures to streamline remittances for businesses through collaboration between the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and the Canada Revenue Agency. The government advised that this would reduce administrative costs for employers by creating a “one-stop-shop” for submitting payroll deductions.

The closure of low-wage businesses during COVID-19 created an increase in Ontario’s Average Industrial Wage. The government therefore announced that the ceiling for worker benefits will be increasing by 9.45 per cent, with a corresponding 3.2 per cent cap on premium increases. These measures will be implemented through the creation of a regulation under the Workplace Safety and Amendment Act.

In the news release announcing these relief measures, the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development stated:

“We know shopkeepers and merchants on Main Streets across Ontario need help. That is why our government is taking action by modernizing the WSIB to support these employers and protect local jobs…This package will save employers hundreds of millions of dollars that can be reinvested in new jobs, technology, and health and safety protections. At the same time, injured workers will continue to receive the benefits and services they deserve.”

Measures Announced at Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Annual General Meeting

In its October 6 Annual General Meeting, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board announced a 5.1 per cent reduction of the average premium rate for businesses in 2022, from $1.37 to $1.30. The WSIB will be also making changes to its online services to allow businesses to view detailed claim information in real time.

As these measures are at the proposal stage only, employers can monitor the province’s online newsroom for future announcements.

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Ontario for Advice on Employment-Related COVID-19 Financial Relief Measures

For advice on Ontario government labour and employment announcements, employee rights, employer liability and other employment or labour law matters, contact the Toronto employment & labour lawyers
Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.