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The Second Wave has Arrived: COVID-19 Legal Updates for the Workplace

Prime Minister Trudeau recently confirmed that a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is underway. With this resurgence of the pandemic, Ontario is taking measures to curb the swift uptick in cases. Part of these measures include tightening public health measures and providing various financial supports to businesses and individuals to assist them financially through these unprecedented times. Summarized below are the most current legal COVID-19 updates.

Mandatory Screening of Employees and Essential Visitors that enter the Workplace

Effective September 26, 2020 Ontario workplaces are required to conduct daily screening of all workers and essential visitors for COVID-19 related symptoms before entering the workplace. In the amendment to the regulation O. Reg. 364/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 3 (the “Stage 3 Regulation”), a person responsible for a business or organization that is open must follow recommendations made by the Chief Medical Officer of Health on screening individuals. Those recommendations require that workers and visitors attending a workplace answer a list of questions about COVID-19 symptoms, whether they have travelled outside of Canada, and any close contact they had with people with confirmed or possible case of COVID-19. The screening is to be done before the individual enters the workplace.

Employers should be mindful that the definition of “workers” includes students, contractors, or volunteers that are working in your office and “essential visitors” refers to anyone providing a service in the office who are not employees, such as delivery people, maintenance, or contract workers. The order does not apply to emergency services or other first responders entering a workplace for emergency purposes but provides very limited exemptions otherwise.

While workplaces are not required to use the Ministry of Health’s screening tool, their protocol must meet the minim requirements set out in the guide. The Ministry has not issued guidelines about documenting or storing information about daily compliance so employers can consider what best fits their business such as emailing a designated person daily or implementing a screening “app”.

Infectious Disease Emergency Leave extended

Effective September 4, 2020, the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) was extended to January 2, 2021. We wrote about this in our previous blog post dated September 10, 2020. After the IDEL expires, employers may place employees on a temporary lay-off if there continues to be a shortage of work. After the temporary lay-off period ends, a continued layoff would be deemed to be a termination.

The extension of the IDEL is welcome news to employers as it stops the clock for temporary lay-off purposes and postpones the period when a deemed termination occurs for purposes of the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

This is welcome news to employers who are facing financial difficulties and cannot afford to pay out termination payments to employees if they are unable to recall them to work.

Increase in Workplace Audits

A recruitment campaign by the Ministry of Labour is underway to hire nearly 100 additional frontline health and safety inspectors. The pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and have increased the need for inspectors to audit workplaces and enforce rules under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employers can expect to see more on-site inspections to review compliance with the ever-changing regulations applying to the pandemic. This would include making sure proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines are implemented and that PPE is appropriately supplied to workers. To that end, the government issued the Ontario Together PPE Directory, a list of companies that sell PPE and other supplies that can be filtered by business location and product category.

The End of CERB: New Recovery Benefits and Changes to Employment Insurance

The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) ended on September 26, 2020. The benefit provided a $500 a week taxable financial support payment to employed and self-employed Canadians who were directly affected by COVID-19.

Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB)

The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) is being referred to as a “CERB extension”. Details about how to apply will be available on October 12, 2020.

Similar to the CERB, the new CRB would be available to those people who have lost their job due to the effects of COVID-19, are searching for work, and have earned at least $5,000 in working income within the 12 months prior to applying. Eligible recipients would receive $500 per week or $1,000 for a 2-week period before taxes. However, unlike CERB, a CRB applicant is someone who doesn’t qualify for Employment Insurance or be in receipt other benefits for workers’ compensation, sickness, caregiver, or short-term disability.

Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB)

The CRCB provides income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because of a need to care for a child under the age of 12 or a family member who needs supervised care. This would apply to situations where schools, daycares or care facilities are closed due to COVID-19 or that family member is sick, required to quarantine or is at high risk of serious health implications due to COVID-19. Administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, an individual would be eligible for $500 for each 1-week period. If the circumstances for the benefit continues past one week, the individual needs to apply on a weekly basis and is eligible for a total of 26 weeks. The CRCB is available between September 27, 2020 and September 25, 2021.

Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB)

The CRSB is available to employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19 or have an underlying health condition that puts them at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Eligible individuals can receive $500 per 1-week period and need to re-apply if their situation continues past that. The benefit is available for a maximum of 2 weeks between September 27, 2020 and September 25, 2021.

Temporary Changes to Employment Insurance (EI)

Also starting on September 27, 2020, temporary rule changes to EI go into effect for one year. The amendments make it easier for people to qualify for the different benefits under the EI program. Applicants will need only 120 insured hours to qualify for the various benefits, receiving a one-time credit for the difference in hours they would otherwise need for their program. Additional accommodations include extending the period to accumulate hours for CERB recipients and waiving the requirement for a medical certificate for sickness benefits.

Employers should ensure that they issue Records of Employment (ROE) as soon as possible so that employees who have stopped working because of COVID-19 can access benefits as needed. Additional guidelines for completing the ROE will help employers manage the needs of their employees and business.

We will continue to monitor updates related to COVID-19 and provide regular updates to help you manage your workplace through the pandemic and related challenges.