The situation with COVID-19 is changing quickly with new public health directives and government announcements federally, provincially and at a municipal level. Our previous articles covered a number of practical tips for employers during the coronavirus pandemic.

To keep you up-to-date, here is a summary of common questions we have received on support available through the Government of Canada and the BC Government, as of March 23, 2020.

1) How do employees access the recently announced Employment Insurance (EI) measures?

As part of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, a variety of measures have been introduced to provide support to both individuals and businesses. The following employee- and employer-specific benefits and services will be available:

  • Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits – Up to 15 weeks of EI is available to eligible claimants who are unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine. A quarantine period includes the 14-day self-isolation period recommended for recently-returned travellers and for those who have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or who demonstrates symptoms. The 1-week waiting period has been waived, as has the requirement to provide a medical certificate. EI Sickness Benefits will provide 55% of your earnings up to a maximum of $573 per week.
  • Emergency Care Benefit – Up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks, for:
    • workers who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI Sickness Benefits;
    • workers who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19; or
    • parents with children who require care due to school closures and are unable to earn employment income.
  • Emergency Support Benefit – Delivered through CRA to provide support for workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
  • EI Work Sharing Program – Extends the eligibility of Work Sharing agreements to 76 weeks, easing eligibility requirements and streamlining the application process. A Work Sharing Program provides EI benefits to workers who agree to reduce their normal work hours as a result of developments beyond the employer’s control. Employees can continue to work and receive pay during their period of reduced hours, while also receiving EI for the hours missed.
  • Employer Wage Subsidy – A temporary wage subsidy for a period of 3 months will be made available to eligible small employers, non-profit organization and charities. The subsidy will equal 10% of remuneration paid during the 3 months, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. The subsidy will apply by allowing employers to reduce their remittances of income tax withheld on their employees’ remuneration.

More details and the application process for the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit will be made available in April after the programs receive royal assent.

Information on how to complete the employee’s Record of Employment is also available here.

2) What measures are available through the BC Government?

The BC Government has announced a number of support measures for individuals and businesses. The BC Emergency Benefit for Workers will provide a one-time $1,000 payment in May 2020 to people who lost income because of COVID-19. BC residents who receive EI, the Emergency Care Benefit or the Emergency Support Benefit, described in the previous section, will be eligible.

Effective March 23, 2020, the BC Government has also made two changes to the Employment Standards Act to protect workers:

  • COVID-19 Leave – Retroactive to January 27, 2020, an employee can take unpaid, job-protected leave if they are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19 (e.g. employees who are ill, quarantined, need to care for a child or dependent, sent home by the employer due to exposure risk, unable to return to BC due to travel restrictions).
  • Personal Illness or Injury Leave – This is a permanent new leave of absence which will provide up to 3 days of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for employees who cannot work due to personal illness or injury.

As well, the BC government has announced a number of provincial tax changes, including deferrals, delays and changes.

With an unprecedented 500,000 EI applications last week in Canada alone (compared to just under 27,000 this week last year), you can expect service disruptions and delayed wait times. Encourage employees to submit their EI applications online as soon as possible, even if their Record of Employment has not yet been issued, in order to initiate the processing of their claim.

We will keep you updated as best we can on any government announcements that affect employers and employees.

Look for our next article: FAQs on layoffs.

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