The federal government of Canada recently passed a new bill that provides emergency benefits to employers and employees as a result of the COVID19 global pandemic. Here is a high-level summary of all parts of the bill that have an impact to group employee benefit plans.

  • Part 1 implements certain income tax measures by providing eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months.
  • Part 2 enacts the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act to authorize the making of income support payments to workers who suffer a loss of income for reasons related to the coronavirus disease 2019.
  • Part 10 amends the Canada Labour Code to, among other things, create a regime which provides for a leave related to COVID-19 of up to 16 weeks, which turns into a general quarantine leave Oct 1/2020. During this leave, the employee is deemed actively at work and all benefits and pensions must continue. All employer and employee remittances must continue.
  • Part 18, division 1, amends the Employment Insurance Act to give the Minister of Employment and Social Development the power to make interim orders for the purpose of mitigating the economic effects of COVID-19.
  • Part 18, division 2 provides that every reference in any provision of the Employment Insurance Act and of regulations made under it to a certificate issued by a medical doctor or other medical professional or medical practitioner or by a nurse practitioner is deemed to be of no effect and that any benefit that would have been payable to a claimant had such a certificate been issued is payable to the claimant if the Canada Employment Insurance Commission is satisfied that the claimant is entitled to the benefit.
  • The program operates from March 15, 2020 to October 3, 2020.
  • This new program collapses and combines two previously announced benefits — the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit — into one.

The CERB will be a taxable benefit and would provide up to $2,000 a month for up to four months (up to 16 weeks) for workers who lose their income (for at-least 14 consecutive days within a month) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CERB would cover Canadians who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.

The CERB would apply to full time wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).

All Canadians who have ceased working due to COVID-19, whether they are EI-eligible or not, would be able to receive the CERB to ensure they have timely access to the income support they need.

Canadians who are already receiving EI regular and sickness benefits as of March 25th 2020, would continue to receive their benefits and should not apply to the CERB. If their EI benefits end before October 3, 2020, they could apply for the CERB once their EI benefits cease, if they are unable to return to work due to COVID-19.

Canadians who are eligible for regular EI  and EI sickness benefits would still be able to access their normal EI benefits, if still unemployed, after the 16-week period covered by the CERB.

Canadians would begin to receive their CERB payments within 10 days of application. The CERB would be paid every four weeks and be available from March 15, 2020 until October 3, 2020.

No applications for this benefit will be permitted after December 2, 2020.

This new program streamlines the financial support the Federal Government is offering workers as it copes with an unprecedented volume of employment insurance claims last week into this week – almost a million applications to date.

The application process is scheduled to open in early April, 2020. In the meanwhile, Employment Insurance (EI) eligible Canadians who have lost their job or who are applying for other EI benefits can continue to apply for EI here,

FROM AN ONTARIO STANDPOINT:

The Ontario legislature has recently (March 19th 2020) passed Bill 186, Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 which provides a job protected leave of absence without pay, for workers, “if the employee will not be performing the duties of his or her position because of various reasons related to a designated infectious disease, including that the employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment; that the employee is in quarantine or isolation; that the employee is providing care or support to another individual; or that the employee is affected by travel restrictions.

A worker may, in the form and manner established by the Minister, apply for an income support payment for any four-week period falling within the period beginning on March 15, 2020 and ending on October 3, 2020. No worker is permitted to file an application after December 2, 2020.

An applicant must provide the Minister with any information that the Minister may require in respect of the application.

Entitlement to leave — quarantine

(1.‍1) Every employee is entitled to and shall be granted a medical leave of absence from employment of up to 16 weeks as a result of quarantine.

Leave Related to COVID-19

Entitlement to leave

239.‍01 (1) Subject to subsection (2), every employee is entitled to and shall be granted a leave of absence from employment of up to 16 weeks — or, if another number of weeks is fixed by regulation, that number of weeks — if the employee is unable or unavailable to work for reasons related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Notice to employer

(2) An employee who intends to take a leave of absence under this Division must, as soon as possible, give written notice to the employer of the reasons for the leave and the length of the leave that they intend to take.

Written declaration

(4) The employer may require an employee to provide a written declaration in support of the reasons for the leave of absence taken under this Division and of any change in the length of that leave.

Employment opportunities

(5) An employee is entitled, on written request, to be informed in writing of every employment, promotion or training opportunity that arises during the period when the employee is on a leave of absence under this Division and for which the employee is qualified, and on receiving that request, the employer must provide the information to the employee.

Prohibition

(6) Subject to subsection (7), an employer is prohibited from dismissing, suspending, laying off, demoting or disciplining an employee because the employee intends to take or has taken a leave of absence under this Division or taking such an intention or absence into account in any decision to promote or train the employee.

Exception

(7) An employer may assign to a different position, with different terms and conditions of employment, any employee who, after a leave of absence under this Division, is unable to perform the work performed by the employee prior to the absence.

Benefits continue

(8) The pension, health and disability benefits and the seniority of an employee who is absent from work due to a leave of absence under this Division accumulate during the entire period of the leave.

Contributions by employee

(9) If contributions are required from an employee in order for the employee to be entitled to a benefit referred to in subsection (8), the employee is responsible for and must, within a reasonable time, pay those contributions for the period of any leave of absence under this Division unless, at the commencement of the absence or within a reasonable time after, the employee notifies the employer of the employee’s intention to discontinue contributions during that period.

Contributions by employer

(10) An employer who pays contributions in respect of a benefit referred to in subsection (8) must continue to pay those contributions during an employee’s leave of absence under this Division in at least the same proportion as if the employee were not absent, unless the employee does not pay the employee’s contributions, if any, within a reasonable time.

Failure to pay contributions

(11) For the purposes of calculating the pension, health and disability benefits of an employee in respect of whom contributions have not been paid as required by subsections (9) and (10), the benefits do not accumulate during the leave of absence under this Division and employment on the employee’s return to work is deemed to be continuous with employment before the employee’s absence.

Deemed continuous employment

(12) For the purposes of calculating benefits, other than benefits referred to in subsection (8), of an employee who is absent from work due to a leave of absence under this Division, employment on the employee’s return to work is to be deemed to be continuous with employment before the employee’s absence.

PART 18 

DIVISION 2 

Medical Certificates

58 (1) Despite any provision of the Employment Insurance Act and of any regulations made under it,

(a) every reference in any provision of that Act or those regulations to a certificate issued by a medical doctor or other medical professional or medical practitioner or by a nurse practitioner is deemed to be of no effect; and

(b) any benefit that would have been payable to a claimant had such a certificate been issued is payable to them if the Commission is satisfied that they are entitled to the benefit.


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