SOME EMPLOYMENT ISSUES ARISING FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

Covid-19 hit Alberta in March 2020. Fortunately, the government has taken, and continues to take, certain immediate and decisive steps to help Canadians who are facing economic hardship as a result of the outbreak. For example, the government has announced that:

  1. It will waive the one-week waiting period for those individuals that are in isolation/quarantined and have claimed Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. This temporary measure has been in effect since March 15, 2020.
  2. It will waive the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits.
  3. It will introduce the Emergency Care Benefit providing up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This flat-payment Benefit would be administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and provide income support to:
    1. Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
    2. Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not quality for EI sickness benefits.
    3. Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.

Affected business owners are also expected to receive financial support from the government. Although we do not know the details of the plan, the government announced that it will introduce a “stimulus program” to help sustain Canadian businesses.  

see: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/canadas-covid-19-economic-response-plan-support-for-canadians-and-businesses.html).

We appreciate that the government is fighting hard to preserve Canadians’ incomes (either through employment insurance or credits); however, there are other concerns arising from Covid-19 in the area of employment law. In this article, we will explore some of the basic rights of employers and employees that have been triggered by this pandemic:

  1. An employer is responsible for maintaining a safe work environment as far as it is reasonably practicable. In other words, an employer should send an employee home immediately an employee manifests any symptoms.
  1. By the same token, an employee is also required to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of co-workers and other persons at the workplace. They should cooperate with the employers and their colleagues to make the workplace safe and healthy. If an employee  believes that his or her employer has not provided a safe work environment, the employee should notify the employer so that it can be addressed properly.
  1. Employees should be ready to self-quarantine if they have contracted Covid-19. If the employee wishes to work remotely from home during self-isolation, the employer should accommodate such needs to the point of undue hardship (provided that their work can be reasonably carried outside of the workplace).
  1. If employees cannot work remotely from home during self-isolation period, they can be out of remuneration by employer, subject to paid vacation days, sick days, banked overtime etc. (Fortunately, Alberta government is reviewing the option of providing 14 days of job protected leave to every employee, including new employees, without the need for medical notes).
  1. Employers cannot terminate or otherwise discriminate against employees for having Covid-19. Under the Alberta Human Rights Act, employers must accommodate the employee to the point of “undue hardship”.
  1. Employers may temporarily lay-off employees when their businesses have slowed down significantly due to shortage of work. However, this is risky as the employee may perceive such lay-off as a constructive dismissal. At the very minimum, the employer should ensure that the employees get some employment insurance benefits.

As this pandemic unfolds, more employment issues will be triggered. Please contact Osuji & Smith for any inquiries you may have under these circumstances.

Author: Justin Kwon