The COVID-19 Emergency Response Act

On March 25, 2020, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-13, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act (the “Act”).

The purpose of this emergency legislation is to provide financial aid and supports to Canadians, businesses and the economy from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among a number of other measures, the Act contains the Government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan in order to provide direct financial aid to Canadian employees and businesses, plus $55 billion in tax deferrals to assist in supporting Canadians and stabilizing the economy.

The Act includes measures that will have significant consequences for employers and employees impacted by COVID-19. Set forth below is a summary of some of those key measures.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

The new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) will provide qualifying Canadian workers affected by COVID-19 with $2,000 of taxable income per month for a maximum period of 16 weeks.

For the purposes of qualifying for the CERB, a worker is defined as a Canadian resident over the age of 15 who earned an income from qualifying income sources, such as employment and self-employment, totalling at least $5,000 in either 2019 or in the preceding 12-month period. Workers are eligible to receive the CERB if their employment ceases for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days within a four-week period from the time they apply for the benefit. Further, throughout those 14 consecutive days, the worker must not have received income from employment, self-employment, or other benefits specified under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act.

Canadian workers who qualify for Employment Insurance (“EI”) benefits are not precluded from receiving both the CERB and EI benefits.

Workers may apply for the CERB as of April 6, 2020 via an online portal for any four-week period of work cessation between March 15, 2020 and October 3, 2020, subject to further changes or extensions.

Amendments to the Employment Insurance Benefits Act

The Act provides that, for the purposes of applying for EI sickness benefits, any requirement for a medical certificate within the Employment Insurance Act no longer has effect until October 1, 2020, subject to further changes or extensions. The Commission may grant retroactive benefits where it is satisfied that a claimant was entitled to a benefit had a medical certificate been issued.

The one-week waiting period for applicants applying for EI sickness benefits due to COVID-19 has been waived. However, there is no change to the one-week waiting period to qualify for EI regular benefits.

 Amendments to the Canada Labour Code: COVID-19 Leave

The Act also amends the Canada Labour Code to provide for an unpaid COVID-19 Leave of Absence. Employees who are unable or unavailable to work for reasons relating to COVID-19 are entitled to a leave of absence of up to 16 weeks until October 1, 2020.

An employee intending to take this leave must provide their employer with written notice outlining the reasons for the leave as well as its expected duration. An employer may also require the employee to provide a written declaration supporting their leave.

Employers are prohibited from dismissing, laying off, or otherwise discriminating against an employee for taking a COVID-19 Leave. Further, an employee’s pension, health and disability benefits, and seniority, will continue to accrue during the period of COVID-19 Leave, though an employee may choose to interrupt a vacation in order to take this leave. Employment upon an employee’s return to work from leave is deemed continuous.

By providing a written request to their employer, employees on leave are entitled to be informed in writing of every employment, promotion or training opportunity that arises during the period when the employee is on a leave and for which the employee is qualified.

The general leave regime was also amended such that an employee may exercise their entitlement to a leave of absence under the Canada Labour Code’s Compassionate Care Leave, Leave Related to Critical Illness, and Medical Leave even where a certificate is not issued by a health care practitioner. Note that this provision is temporary and will be repealed on September 30, 2020.

After October 1, 2020, the COVID-19 Leave will be replaced with a more general leave under the Canada Labour Code’s existing medical leave regime, and will entitle employees to a medical leave of absence for up to 16 weeks as a result of quarantine.

Amendments to the Apprentice Loans Act

The Apprentice Loans Act was amended such that for the period of March 20, 2020 to September 30, 2020, in relation to an apprentice loan, a borrower is not required to pay any amount on account of principal and interest.

Employers considering the impact of these changes on their workforce should seek the advice of a labour and employment lawyer.

Amendments to the Income Tax Act: Temporary Wage Subsidy

Part I of Bill C-13 also amends portions of the Income Tax Act to provide a wage subsidy for eligible employers. Read our Federal Government Announces COVID-19 Wage Subsidy blog for a more detailed discussion of this program.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.