What we are seeing
- The Government of Canada has confirmed that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will not be extended after applicants have reached the current maximum benefit entitlement or the final eligibility period ends on September 26, 2020. Although economies across the country are slowly reopening, the Government has stated that it believes additional financial assistance beyond Employment Insurance will be required and is looking at offering a parallel benefit, which would contemplate some level of governmental assistance in addition to income available to be earned from part-time or gig economy jobs.
- The Government of Canada had previously announced that the extension and expansion of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program will continue until December 19, 2020, which we discussed here. The expansion of the program has been well received. However, some caution has been expressed regarding the complexity of the calculations to determine if a business qualifies for the subsidy and the significant penalties if the subsidy is received in error. A backgrounder to assist in the calculations can be found here.
What we are hearing
- The Government of Alberta updated its re-entry plan for K to 12 students on July 21, 2020 by requiring students from Grades 4 to 12 to wear masks where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including on school buses. The Government will distribute 2 reusable masks to each student and staff member, with school staff also being provided with a reusable face shield. The Government will also be providing hand sanitizer, contactless thermometers, and staff testing.
- Although this update to require masks has been welcomed by staff and parents, concerns are still being expressed about whether children will be 100% safe attending school. With respect, that is not the measure that should be used. Not reopening schools puts a thumb on the economy and prevents some businesses from returning to near normal operations. Further, it is often those frontline workers who are most at risk that require schools to be reopened so that they do not have to stay at home not getting paid, or direct a percentage of income to pay for childcare.
- We have no doubt that the Government of Alberta will be vigilant in monitoring the statistics once schools reopen to ensure that children returning to school are no more at risk than going to the grocery store or playing at a playground. Contracting COVID-19 will be an ever-present risk for all Albertans until a vaccine has been developed. All citizens should focus on having a functional day-to-day life, but at all times following public health guidelines to limit the spread as best as possible.
What we are saying
- For many employers who placed employees on temporary leave after the declaration of the public health state of emergency in March 2020, the maximum 120-day layoff period is about to expire. As we reported here, the maximum 120-day layoff period was extended when the layoff was due to COVID-19 related issues for up to 180 days. Employers are inquiring if the layoff period automatically extends to 180 days or whether notice that the layoff period has been extended is required.
- As the 180-day period is a maximum, we recommend that the employee be given notice that the 20-day period in the original layoff notice has been extended to 180 days. This notice can be via email or letter. Further notice is probably not required as section 62 of the Employment Standards Code does not state that the employer has to provide the length of the notice when advising employees of a temporary layoff. However, as it is fairly easy to provide notice of the extension, we still recommend that employers advise affected employees that the layoff has been extended in order to avoid an argument that the employer has not strictly complied with the legislation.