Governments across Canada have recently made multiple announcements regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To help make things easier for employers, this article summarises the announcements from all provinces that touch on workplace issues.
During his press conference on 16 March 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 Canada, including the United States, are requested to self-isolate for 14 days. Upon their return to Canada, those travellers must 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.
The federal government recently 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 programme:
- 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 that they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
- Service Canada has created a new dedicated toll-free phone number for questions relating to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period.
- There will be priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for employees under quarantine.
- 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 themselves in isolation because a family member or close relative with whom they have had contact is quarantined.
Finally, the federal Work-Sharing programme – an adjustment programme 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 employer's control – is implementing temporary special measures for employers experiencing a downturn in business activity relating to the global COVID-19 outbreak. 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.
The Alberta government recently announced plans to implement paid job-protected leave for workers affected by COVID-19.
On 13 March 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 caring for a loved one with COVID-19 to take 14 days' paid job-protected leave to cover the recommended self-isolation period. In addition, 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 shortly.
As of 16 March 2020, the British Columbia government had announced no upcoming legislative changes with respect to employment legislation.
The government has recommended that those who travel outside Canada self-isolate for 14 days upon return, unless work-related travel to the United States is essential, including cross-border trucking, air transport 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 15 March 2020, the Manitoba government had announced no 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 that 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 Manitoba and encourage virtual meetings to reduce prolonged, close contact between individuals.
As of 16 March 2020, the New Brunswick government had announced that all non-essential public sector employees will be asked 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.
As of 15 March 2020, the Newfoundland and Labrador government had announced no upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation.
As of 15 March 2020, the Nova Scotia government had announced no upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation other than that the province has asked employers not to ask employees for a doctor's note if they get sick or need to self-isolate.
On 17 March 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 programmes;
- all public libraries;
- all private schools as defined in the Education Act;
- all licensed childcare centres;
- all bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeaway 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 businesses.(1)
On 16 March 2020 the Ontario government announced that it was working on changes to employment standards legislation which would include job-protected leaves where:
- 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; or
- an employee needs to provide care to a person for a COVID-19-related reason, such as in cases of a school or childcare closure.
The Ontario government has indicated that the legislation will be retroactive to 25 January 2020. No actual legislation has yet been made publicly available or introduced in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. Media reports suggest that the province's New Democratic Party opposition party is working with the government to put COVID-19 legislation in place on an expedited basis.
As of 15 March 2020, the Prince Edward Island government had advised that it will establish three special cabinet committees as part of provincial response efforts. One of these committees includes Labour and Social Supports. The Prince Edward Island government has announced no upcoming legislative changes or guidance with respect to employment legislation.
On 16 March 2020, Quebec Premier François Legault,announced the new Temporary Assistance Workers Programme (PATT), which will be implemented shortly.(2)
PATT applies to workers and independent contractors who have to isolate or decide to isolate themselves because they:
- have COVID-19;
- travelled out of Canada and returned on or after 12 March 2020 (proof will be required, for example, a passport or plane tickets);
- have symptoms related to the flu or a cold (there is no need to provide a medical certificate as this will be based on good faith); or
- have been in contact with a person who has COVID-19 (this requires the person to give the name of the affected individual; the affected individual's status will be verified).
If a worker or an independent contractor falls into any of these categories and has no other sources of revenue (eg, from their employer, an insurer, Employment Insurance or otherwise), they will be entitled to receive C$573 per week from the provincial government for a maximum 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 childcare 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 programme will be subject to modification depending on any measures that the federal government may implement.
Finally, the Quebec government has asked employers not to ask for medical certificates from their employees to avoid putting more strain on the health system.
As of 15 March 2020, the Saskatchewan government had announced no 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.
(1) More information on temporary layoff and other options for employees is available here.
(2) The form to be completed by workers is available here.
Stéphane Fillion, partner, Sophie Arseneault, associate, Rachel Devon, associate, and Andrew Dixon, associate, assisted in the preparation of this article.