This is the seventh bulletin in a weekly series that provides a recap of important COVID-19 developments and their impact on employers as they navigate these challenging times. This recap covers the week of May 4, 2020 and is current as of May 11, 2020.
During the week of May 4, 2020, the Federal government announced $252 million in new funding support for the agriculture and food sectors, as well as a $4 billion deal reached with provincial and territorial governments to fund wage top-ups for certain essential workers. The Federal government also announced that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (“CEWS”) will be extended beyond June 2020, as well as relief measures for employers with defined contribution pension plans (“DC Plans”). Additionally, the federal government has conclusively clarified that SUB Plans cannot be used to top up CERB payments.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government announced the roll-out of expanded mental health care services and new temporary supports for licensed child care centres. Ontario also made important announcements about the partial and full reopening of certain workplaces, while extending its Emergency Orders until May 19, 2020, and has approved the voluntary redeployment of school board employees to congregate care settings.
The key developments from this week are set out below.
Ontario Rolled Out Expanded Mental Health Care Services
On May 5, 2020, Ontario announced that it is expanding virtual mental health care services for Ontarians as part of its previously announced $12 million investment into improving mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. These virtual mental healthcare services are available for free to Ontarians across the province, including frontline healthcare workers.
The newly created and/or expanded mental health care services include the following:
- Internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT): Clients can self-refer to programs through MindBeacon and Morneau Shepell and be guided through their client journey to find the appropriate supports they need. Online iCBT is supported by therapists and available in English and French.
- Supports for frontline health care workers: Online iCBT is available to frontline health care workers experiencing anxiety, burnout or post-traumatic stress disorder. Those requiring intensive levels of care could be referred to virtual face-to-face care, as well as weekly online peer discussion groups and access to confidential support from a clinician.
- Virtual mental health support services: These include BounceBack telephone coaching and workbooks, and Kids Help Phone for children and youth.
For information on what Ontario’s expanded online mental health care services means for your business, please read our recent article.
New Funding to Support the Agriculture and Food Sectors During the COVID-19 Pandemic
On May 5, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the federal government will provide $252 million in funding to aid the agriculture and food sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This funding is intended to help employers in these sectors adapt to new health protocols, implement measures to ensure proper social distancing in their workplaces, and purchase appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for their workers. Some of the funding is also being allocated to aiding beef and pork producers with livestock that they cannot sell, helping the dairy industry by increasing credit available through the Canadian Dairy Commission, and purchasing surplus food from farmers that would otherwise spoil so that it can be distributed to organizations fighting food insecurity, such as food banks.
For implications of these developments for your business, please read our recent article.
Temporary COVID-19 Relief Measures for Defined Contribution Pension Plans
On May 5, 2020, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) announced temporary COVID-19 relief measures for employers with defined contribution pension plans (“DC Plans”), also known as money purchase pension plans. The relief measures waive the 1% regulatory contribution requirement, allowing DC Plans to be amended such that neither the employer nor employees will be required to make any more contributions for the rest of 2020. Crucially, employers can only avail themselves of the relief measures if they amend their DC Plan and submit the amendments to be registered with the CRA Registered Plans Directorate, as well as the applicable federal or provincial pension regulator.
For information on what the temporary relief measures for defined contribution pension plans mean for your business, please read our recent article.
The Gradual Reopening of Ontario: Emergency Orders Have Been Extended but More Workplaces Have Been Allowed to Reopen
On May 6, 2020, Ontario made important announcements about gradually reopening the economy according to A Framework for Reopening Our Province (read our recent article for an overview of this framework). Although Ontario extended its emergency orders in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic until May 19, 2020, it also announced that certain workplaces are allowed to reopen to various degrees.
For information on what businesses are allowed to reopen, and what the gradual reopening of Ontario’s economy means for your business, please read our recent article.
The Federal and Provincial/Territorial Governments Have Reached a $4 Billion Deal to Fund Wage Top-Ups for Certain Essential Workers
On May 7, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government reached a deal with all Canadian provinces and territories to provide wage top-ups to certain essential workers across the country. Under this deal, the federal government will contribute $4 billion in total, which will cover 75% of all wage top-ups, and the provinces and territories will fund the remaining 25%. Each province and territory will decide which essential workers receive the top-ups, the amount of the top-ups, and the period for which the top-ups will be provided in their jurisdiction.
For more information about these top-ups and what they mean for your business, please read our recent article.
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Will be Extended Beyond June 2020
On May 8, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the federal government will extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (“CEWS”) beyond June 2020 (for an overview of the CEWS, please read our recent article, and watch our FAQ video on the CEWS).
The CEWS is being extended to encourage more employers to recall workers from layoff, or rehire staff, in an effort to “help kickstart” the gradual reopening of the economy. The announcement comes in the face of record-high job losses, with the Canadian economy having lost approximately three million jobs since March and millions of other employees across Canada having significantly reduced income.
The extension of the CEWS is great news for Canadian employers and their employees because it provides employers with an opportunity to prevent layoffs and to bring employees who have already been laid off back to work. Additionally, the extension demonstrates that government is monitoring the impact of the pandemic on employers and employees, and is prepared to assist employers and employees by extending the CEWS if necessary. Although the length of the extension has not yet been confirmed, the government has the power to extend the CEWS to September 30, 2020. Further details about the extension are expected this week.
As we have discussed previously on this Resource Centre, where an employer’s workplace is still operating as a result of being declared an essential workplace, and work-from-home arrangements are not feasible for the employer’s business, employers should carefully revisit and revise their social distancing guidelines for the workplace as necessary before bringing significant numbers of employees back into the workplace. Failure to do so could put the health of employees and the community at risk and expose the employer to liability under Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. To limit potential risks, employers should consider bringing staff back gradually, which will allow employers to monitor how well health and safety requirements can be met within the workplace, given social distancing guidelines.
SUB Plans Cannot be Used to Top Up CERB Payments
On May 8, 2020, the federal government confirmed on its Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) Q&A website page that employers cannot use Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (“SUB”) plans to top up the CERB. Employees receiving the CERB may earn up to $1,000 in employment or self-employment income in each benefit period, but any amounts in excess of the $1,000 threshold would result in employees having to repay CERB amounts they received for the same benefit period.
Employers can still use SUB plans to top up the EI regular or sickness benefits of employees whose EI claims arose before March 15. Additionally, employers that are able and inclined to do so will be able to use SUB plans to provide top-ups to employees who exhaust their 16-week CERB entitlement and become eligible for EI.
Although employers cannot provide top-ups under their SUB plans, they can still provide employees with up to $1000 per CERB claiming period, if they are able and inclined to do so, without impacting employees’ CERB eligibility.
New Temporary Supports for Child Care Centres During the Pandemic
On May 9, 2020, the Ontario government announced a plan to support licensed child care centres by providing temporary funding support for some fixed operating costs, particularly for centres that historically have not been eligible for provincial funding. Funding support will be delivered through municipal service managers for centres currently receiving provincial funding, while centres not currently receiving funding will be able to apply directly to the Ministry of Education. The plan also involves waiving all child care licensing applications and renewal fees, automatically extending licenses set to expire during the emergency period, and a wage enhancement grant for licensed home child care providers who have remained active during the emergency period.
These time-limited measures will be in place to help child care centres through the coming months, with the goal of ensuring that child care spaces remain available for when parents return to work.
Licensed child care providers should consider applying to the Ministry of Education for this new temporary funding. Employers should note that funding eligibility and amounts will be determined on a case-by-case basis, and that the Ontario government has also directed that child care centres will be required to maximize all available support under the Federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, including retroactive wage subsidies from March 15, 2020 and rental subsidy supports.
Employers should note that child care centres continue to be prohibited from charging parents fees while the government’s Emergency Orders under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act remain in effect.
Ontario Has Approved an Emergency Order Allowing School Board Employees to be Voluntarily Redeployed to Congregate Care Settings
On May 9, 2020, Ontario approved a new emergency order that will allow employees of Ontario school boards, such as maintenance staff and custodians, to voluntarily redeploy to work in congregate care settings, such as hospitals, long-term care homes, and retirement homes, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff would maintain their employment with the school board and continue to receive their compensation and benefits, but would also be eligible for pandemic pay and emergency child care.
If the order works as intended, employers operating congregate care settings will be better able to address any staffing shortages they may be facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues. This information is not intended as legal advice.