Updated March 28, 2020
The federal government released Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan (“Plan”) last Wednesday, March 18. It contained temporary and longer-term income support measures to alleviate burdens to individuals and businesses caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Then on Wednesday, March 25, the government announced the passage of Bill C-13, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, furthering the implementation of some of these measures.
Bill C-13 recombines some of the March 18 measures into a new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) deemed simpler and more accessible than earlier measures (note that the federal government announcement of a larger wage subsidy today, March 27, will be addressed elsewhere by RCC). Other measures (EI and EI Work Share) remain applicable yet are subject to new complexities arising from the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and response.
This brief’s purpose is to explain the recent changes to these worker-oriented federal support measures and guide readers to helpful resources. This analysis is current as of March 26 in a rapidly evolving situation.
Worker-focused COVID-19 supports before March 25, 2020
The federal government announced four main worker-oriented supports previously. For immediate, temporary support needs, they waived the one week waiting period for EI sickness benefits as well as the medical note requirement. They also created a new Emergency Care Benefit of $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks to cover certain groups of people (sick, caring for a sick loved one or unable to work due to child care obligations resulting from school closures; no paid sick leave or equivalent), including the self-employed, who would not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
To provide longer term income relief, the government suggested two measures: an extended, streamlined EI Work Sharing program to help employers keep staff at reduced hours, as well as an up to $5B Emergency Support Benefit for those who are not eligible for EI and who were facing unemployment.
For more information on these earlier measures, see RCC’s earlier brief on March 18 worker-oriented support measures. Issues such as navigating what defines “sick or quarantined” in an era of social distancing to avoid contagion, especially for the immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable, will be left to further discussion, as will new leaves.
New worker-focused COVID-19 support: CERB
According to the March 25 federal news release announcing that Bill-13 has passed, the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides a taxable benefit of $2,000 a month for up to 4 months “to support workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The language indicates that the CERB would cover those groups that the March 18 Emergency Care Benefit would have covered (see above on ECB details). It goes further, saying,
“Additionally, workers who are still employed, but are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation related to COVID-19, would also qualify for the CERB. The CERB is available to Canadian workers affected by the current situation whether or not they are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).”
A related news release specific to the CERB indicates that the CERB combines the Emergency Care and Emergency Support Benefits to make income support simpler and more accessible. It states that the CERB would apply to,
“Wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not be otherwise eligible for Employment Insurance (EI). Additionally, workers who are still employed, but not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19, would also qualify for the CERB.”
RCC anticipates that more details with regard to how the CERB will interact with EI application and eligibility requirements and how it covers self-employed retail business owners will be forthcoming in the near future. There is expected to be an online portal to apply by early April and the aim is to have funds start flowing quickly.
RCC understands that the CERB will be retroactive to March 15th. Anyone who is currently on EI (who applied on or after March 15th) who is eligible for the CERB will be automatically transferred over from EI to CERB. After their CERB benefits are exhausted, they will still be eligible to go back on EI.
Navigating high demand for EI and EI Work Share
The Work Share program is now evolving as it develops to meet the challenges of COVID-19. RCC understands that Service Canada has established a team specific to Work Share to handle applications more efficiently and that there will soon be a way for employers considering Work-Share to interact directly with that team for support. The waiting period for new agreements is being reduced to 7 to 10 days down from 30 days and the government is now requiring less stringent criteria for the recovery plan and pre-downturn business information.
EI and EI Work Share: The latest developments
The main EI piece in the federal relief measures is still the waiver of the one week waiting period for sickness benefits. Layoffs due to shortage of work are still treated as such by EI, and coded as such in records of employment, even if those layoffs can be laid at the feet of the COVID-19 crisis. When the employee refuses to come to work but is not sick or quarantined, use code E (Quit) or code N (Leave of absence), as appropriate. (Service Canada – Employment Insurance).
For employers navigating a negative impact on sales due directly or indirectly to COVID-19 who are considering lay-offs, the EI Work-Share program is an avenue to maintain core staff at reduced hours.
Under the EI Work-Share program, employers demonstrating a downturn due to COVID-19 can reduce staff hours by 10% – 60%. The proposed reduction in work hours should correspond with the number of anticipated temporary layoffs (Employer Applicant Guide). Employers must come to a shared agreement with the staff in a given work share unit, the staff union if applicable, and Service Canada. These work share agreements can now last twice as long as they could before COVID-19: more than a year, or 76 weeks up, from 38 weeks. The program provides EI benefits to eligible employees who agree to reduce their normal working hours and share the available work while their employer recovers (Work Share Employee Guide). More detail can be found on EI Work-Share and COVID-19 at: Work Share Temporary Special Measures, Work Share Program.
RCC is in communication with the federal government on worker-oriented relief measures. We are focused on sharing material changes with members on an ongoing basis in what is a highly in flux, rapidly evolving situation. Updates to worker-oriented supports will shared online with our members regularly. If you have questions, you are welcome to email [email protected].