A number of new changes have come into play recently as the province and the federal government attempt to adjust to ongoing needs caused by the pandemic. In particular, benefits have recently been expanded, and the federal government is considering implementing mandated paid sick days for employees across the country. Below, we take a look at each of these updates in greater detail.

Federal Updates Including CERB and CEWS

The Federal Government has now announced the continuation of the closing of the border with the United States for non-essential travel through to July 21. This is reciprocal, and could potentially be extended even further. This will obviously have a dramatic impact on Canada’s short summer tourism season.

The Prime Minister has also stated that CERB payments of $2,000 every four weeks for qualified applicants will be extended for a further eight weeks beyond its present end date of 16 weeks from March 15 to a total now of 24 weeks.

The basic criteria are persons who have stopped working because of COVID-19 or were eligible for EI regular payments or sickness benefits, which have been used in full. Full details of other qualifiers appear at this link.

Canada has also announced a program for assistance to employers with commercial lease payments in the form of forgivable loans. The tenant must pay 25% of the usual rent for the months of April, May and June. The program allows Ontario and Canada to equally share 50% of the rental payment and that the landlord prepare to accept a discount of 25%. This program was announced June 5 and is retroactive to April 1.

The usual rental payment must cap at $50,000 a month and the tenant must show a COVID related loss in income of 70%. The application must be submitted by August 31.

Canada has also extended the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which was originally intended to run from March 15 to June 6. It has now been extended to August 29 and further, will apply not only to returning and present employees, but also newly hired workers. There are other revisions the basic gist of which are to make the subsidy more widely applicable. The grant remains set at 75% of the weekly wage to a cap of $847 per week.

Federal & Provincial Sick Leave

Ontario law does not mandate paid sick days. This was so at one time but reversed by the Ford Government. Some companies provide paid sick leave as an employment benefit but there is no provincial requirement to do so. Federal employees are allowed three paid sick days per year. Three months of consecutive employment is required in order to qualify.

At the present time, Canada has allowed EI to be paid without the one week waiting period for persons who are ill due to the coronavirus. There is no need for a medical note. The maximum EI now is $573 per week, which is based on 60% of the insured income of $54,200 cap.

The Federal Government is now in discussions with the provinces to mandate a paid 10-day sick leave at full salary across the country. Manitoba, B.C. and the Yukon have committed to this proposal.

The intent of the plan is to allow employees greater freedom not to report to work when they are showing symptoms of illness, as currently those who cannot afford to take an unpaid day may be reluctant to do so. No doubt there may be some abuse but the greater good is the evident goal.

It is not clear if this program will be funded by the government, and at which level, or be mandated to be an employer-provided benefit. Stay tuned to this page for further developments.

Ontario Broadens Phase 2 Openings

As certain parts of Ontario now enter Phase 2, some of which took effect on June 12 and others commencing on Friday, June 19, the province has published a series of guidance notes for specific industries. Although these are benignly referenced by this title, they have the impact of imposing legal obligations on employers and create personal liability for the relevant manager.

Workers who believe that the workplace is unsafe have been provided with a call centre number (1-877-202-0008) which will likely recite the procedure under the Workplace Safety & Insurance Act, as discussed previously.

The areas of the province which remain excluded from Phase 2 include Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex. This is based on the data of new active cases and strain on medical facilities. This will likely change soon.

Keep in mind that school closings presently extend to June 30. This is important as the need to attend to child care allows now for employment protection. Once this is eliminated, presumably to be co-ordinated with child care centres being opened, the law will likely remove this as a job protection.

Phase 2 businesses allowed to open include outdoor dine-in services at restaurants and bars; barber and beauty shops; shopping malls under certain restrictions; tour and guide services; swimming pools; beach access and campgrounds; training facilities for outdoor team sports; drive-in theatres; film and television studios and weddings and funerals to a maximum of 50 people, provided the venue is at less than 30% capacity.

The availability of testing centres is ever-expanding. For employers and employees with such concerns, this link will show the closest free assessment centre. Many employers may consider the requirement of regular testing as a condition of a return to employment. Presently the technology does not allow for immediate results, which are particularly important for asymptomatic workers.

Get Advice and Know Your Rights

Never before has the need for timely and accurate legal information been more important. Both levels of government are responding to this crisis with new laws and programs constantly.

We remain by your side to provide real-time practical insight into the law and your position, for both employers and employees. For advice on this issue and all employment law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment 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.