Coronavirus in the Workplace: Legislation and Regulations Affecting Canadian Employers

As of March 27, 2020, the federal government and five provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Saskatchewan) have issued bills and regulations related to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The bills and regulations provide support to businesses and employees, from financial assistance to sick and family leave.

Coronavirus in the Workplace: Legislation and Regulations Affecting Canadian Employers

Federal

The House of Commons introduced Bill C-13 “COVID-19 Emergency Response Act” on March 24, 2020. The Senate reviewed the bill, and it was given Royal Assent on March 25, 2020.

The bill provides support to businesses in several ways, including:

  • Avoiding layoffs by extending the work-sharing program and providing small business wage subsidies
  • Providing access to credit through establishing a business credit availability program and offering a guarantee on loans
  • Supporting financial stability by launching an insured mortgage purchase program, launching Bank of Canada actions, and lowering the domestic stability buffer
  • Offering more flexibility through more time to pay income taxes.

Following the bill’s assent, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more help for small and medium-sized businesses to keep employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis, including a 75% wage subsidy and guaranteed interest-free loans.

Wage subsidies will be backdated to March 15, 2020.

[Upcoming Webcast: Coronavirus: Public Health and Canadian Workplace Considerations | April 1, 2020]

Provincial

Alberta

Alberta published the Employment Standards (COVID-19 Leave) Regulation on March 17, 2020.

The regulation announces changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code:

  • Allows full- and part-time employees to take an unpaid, job-protected leave of 14 days where they are required to self-isolate or are caring for a child or dependent adult infected with COVID-19
  • Does not apply to self-employed individuals or contractors.

To be eligible, employees:

  • Are not required to have a doctor’s note
  • Are not required to have worked for their employer for 90 days prior to taking the leave.

The leave covers the 14-day self-isolation period recommended by Alberta’s chief medical officer (CMO). It may be extended if the advice of the CMO changes.

The leave is retroactive to March 5, 2020.

British Columbia (B.C.)

B.C. introduced and gave Royal Assent to Bill 16, amending its Employment Standards Act on March 23, 2020. The bill makes two significant changes to help workers during the COVID-19 public health emergency:

  • Workers can immediately take unpaid, job-protected leave if they are unable to work for reasons relating to coronavirus. This includes workers who are sick, in quarantine or self-isolation; those who need to care for children or other dependents, or employers who are worried employees may expose other employees to risk. The COVID-19 job-protected leave is tied specifically to the COVID-19 emergency and will be repealed when it is no longer needed.
  • The bill provides up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for people who cannot work due to illness or injury. To qualify for the three-day job-protected illness or injury leave, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 90 days and may need to give reasonable evidence of eligibility if their employer requests it. This is a permanent change to the act.

The COVID-19 related leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020. The second amendment is not retroactive.

[Upcoming Webcast: Benefits Together: Perspectives on Pandemic Response | April 2, 2020]

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador introduced and gave Royal Assent to Bill 33, COVID-19 Pandemic Response Act, on March 26, 2020.

The bill amends the Labour Standards Act to create a new kind of emergency leave for those affected by COVID-19. The new communicable disease emergency leave will allow workers to take unpaid leave when:

  • The employee or an immediate family member is infected by the coronavirus or following an order from the province due to the ongoing public-health state of emergency.
  • The employee is in isolation or quarantine.
  • The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace.
  • The employee provides care or support to a designated family member for a reason related to a designated communicable disease that concerns that individual, including a school or child-care service closure.
  • The employee is affected by travel restrictions and cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to Newfoundland and Labrador.

An employer may require an employee who takes leave to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances, at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances, that the employee is entitled to the leave but shall not require an employee to provide a certificate from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner as evidence.

The amendments are retroactive to March 14, 2020.

Ontario

Ontario introduced and passed Bill 186, Employment Standards Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies) on March 19, 2020.

Under Bill 186, employees can take an unpaid leave of absence if they cannot work for any of the following reasons:

  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19.
  • The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
  • The employee is in isolation or quarantine.
  • The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace.
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure.
  • Travel restrictions prevent the employee from returning to Ontario.

Employers cannot require employees wishing to take Infectious Disease Emergency Leave to provide them with a medical note. Employers can require that employees provide evidence that is reasonable in the circumstances to substantiate their absence. The employer must continue benefits unless the employee elects in writing not to do so. The same consideration does not apply with a layoff.

The new leave of absence measures under the Infectious Disease Emergencies Act are retroactive to January 25, 2020.

[Related Reading: COVID-19: Don’t Forget Your EAP]

Saskatchewan

Bill 207, The Saskatchewan Employment (Public Health Emergencies) Amendment Act, was introduced and given royal assent on March 17, 2020.

Bill 207:

  • Removes the requirement of 13 consecutive weeks of employment with the employer prior to accessing sick leave
  • Removes the provision requiring a doctor’s note or certificate
  • Introduces a new unpaid public health emergency leave.

If an order by a CMO of the World Health Organization or province is made, an employee can take public health emergency leave in one of two circumstances:

  • Leave can be taken if an employer, medical practitioner, the government of Saskatchewan, or the CMO has directed an employee to isolate themselves to prevent the spread of the disease that is the subject of the order by the CMO.
  • Public health emergency leave can be taken if the employee is required to provide care and support to a child or adult family member who is affected by a direction or order of the government of Saskatchewan or of a CMO.

Public health emergency leave lasts for the period that the order of the CMO is in effect.

Public health emergency leave is unpaid by default. However, employees are entitled to their regular wages and benefits while on public health emergency leave if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • The employee is authorized to work from home during the leave period.
  • The employee complies with the measures set out in the order of the CMO.
  • Any other additional requirements that may be ordered by the government are satisfied.

The amendments are retroactive to March 6, 2020.

Resources

Register Now for the Upcoming Coronavirus Webcast

Plan now to attend the April 1 webcast: Coronavirus: Public Health and Canadian Workplace Considerations. The webcast will look at both the public health side of this issue as well as the legal and regulatory concerns so that employees can be properly supported.

Coronavirus Resources

Coronavirus and the Workplace

Learn more about coronavirus and the workplace:

Amanda Wilke, CEBS

Amanda Wilke, CEBS
Information/Research Specialist at the International Foundation

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