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COVID-19 HR Related FAQs

Under Saskatchewan's Occupational Health & Safety legislation, an employee has the right to refuse unsafe work. Employers have a duty to keep their staff safe during an outbreak. Therefore, the employer would need to investigate and assess whether the work is unsafe and if it poses risk or harm to the employee. Appropriate hazards would include if someone in the workplace has COVID-19, if they’re reporting flu-like symptoms or if they’ve traveled to an at-risk country recently.

Once a hazard is identified, an employee is entitled to receive pay until the employer investigates and addresses the concern. If after the employer’s assessment, the risk is minimal or nonexistent, the employee would be required to return to work. However, if the employee continues to refuse to work, then the employee would be deemed to be unavailable for work and may not be paid. Given employers have an obligation to keep their staff safe and informed, employers should provide information about COVID-19, from proper hand washing to understanding the symptoms, and supplying items like hand sanitizer and encouraging social distancing to reduce their fears about their risks around COVID-19.

**For vulnerable employees with pre-existing conditions (e.g. with asthma), they may have to be accommodated to ensure their safety.

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Government of Canada is proposing to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months. The subsidy was equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. On Friday, March 27, this was subsidy was increased to 75%, and the wage subsidies will be backdated to March 15, 2020. Details of the updated program is still being worked out and that more information will be coming out between now and Monday.  Please stay tuned for further details regarding this change.

In addition, the government will also guarantee bank loans of up to $40,000 for small businesses which will be interest-free for the first year to help businesses.  Under certain conditions, up to $10,000 of the loans could be non-repayable. Businesses will be able to benefit immediately from this support by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld on their employees’ remuneration. Employers benefiting from this measure will include corporations eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities. **Supporting legislation to follow

CRA is allowing businesses to defer, until after August 31, 2020 the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after the announcement until September 2020. No interest will accumulate on these amounts during this period.

Employers can look at reducing hours for employees to help with cash flow restraints. Under the new EI Work sharing (WS) program, employees who agree to reduce their normal working hours as a result of developments beyond the control of their employers, can access EI benefits while working fewer hours with their employer for up to 76 weeks. The program now has easier eligibility requirements and has streamlined the application process.

A WS unit must reduce its hours of work by at least 10% (one half day) to a maximum of 60% (three days). The reduction of hours can vary from week to week, as long as the average reduction over the course of the agreement is from 10% to 60%.

Individual employees in the same job description cannot volunteer to participate in WS while others decline to participate and continue to work normal hours.

The proposed reduction in work hours should correspond with the number of anticipated temporary layoffs. For example, if an employer submits a request for a 40% reduction in the hours of work, the employer must indicate there is a need to layoff approximately 40% of the workforce.

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1) The Federal Government has repackaged the two previously-announced financial benefits into one.  The new Canada Emergency Response Benefit will provide workers who have lost their incomes due to COVID-19 with a $2,000/month for the next four months. And will replace the two financial measures – the emergency care benefit and emergency support benefit.

The CERB will cover Canadians who have lost their job are sick, quarantined or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures. The CERB applies to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).  Additionally, workers who are still employed by are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19, also qualify for the CERB.

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**Application for the Benefit will be available in April 2020 and covers the period of March 15 – October 3, 2020.  Stay tuned for further information on how to apply for the Benefit.

 

2) The Saskatchewan Provincial Government is implementing a Self-Isolation Support Program targeted at Saskatchewan residents forced to self-isolate that are not covered by recent federally announced employment insurance programs and other supports. The program is designed to ensure that all Saskatchewan residents are covered by either a federal or provincial program to ensure no one is faced with choosing to work instead of protecting their family and community from COVID-19 by self-isolating.

To be eligible, employees:

  • have contracted COVID-19 or are showing symptoms;
  • have been in contact with an individual infected with COVID-19;
  • have recently returned from international travel and have been required to self-isolate;

AND

  • are not eligible for compensation including sick leave, vacation leave from their employer
  • do not have private insurance covering such disruptions
  • are not covered by other programs such as federal employment insurance that has been updated.

 

3) Job Protected Leave

Amendments to the Saskatchewan Employment Act will ensure:

  • Employees can access unpaid public health emergency leave;
  • Removal of the requirement of 13 consecutive weeks of employment with an employer
  • prior to accessing sick leave; and
  • Removal of the provision requiring a doctor’s note or certificate

*Employees cannot be terminated or temporarily laid off while taking this job protected leave.

Click here for more information on the Self-Isolation Support Program.

Click here for more information for Job Protected Leave.

Please also reach out to the Business Response Team within the Ministry of Trade and Export Development. This team has been set up to support businesses and workers dealing with the economic challenges resulting from COVID-19 and contains valuable information about the available federal and provincial programming. Please review their website or phone: 1-844-800-8868 or email supportforbusiness@gov.sk.ca.

Canadians who lose their jobs or face reduced hours as a result of COVID’s impact, the Government is offering the Canada Emergency Care Benefit.  See as discussed above. Stay tuned for further information on how to apply for the benefit.

The employer can apply for the SUB Plan for EI however, the problem with the SUB plan for EI top-up is that, by nature, it implies there has been no interruption in the employee's earnings, (otherwise they wouldn't have the ability to top-up) which is clearly not the case in this circumstance. Another issue with it is that it needs to be registered with Service Canada, which could take some time however employers are encouraged to still proceed with the application process.

Employers and employees may consider using available leaves should an employee be required to self-isolate. Employees can request using their vacation pay or banked overtime, but employers are not required to grant the request. Provincial employment rules only require employers to provide vacation pay, vacation leave or pay banked overtime within a year of it being earned. Employers can request employees take vacation leave and/or use their vacation pay or banked overtime. The employer must provide the employee at least four weeks written notice before the employee's vacation start date.

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You may want to consider Temporary Layoffs for your staff. In Saskatchewan, the maximum duration of a temporary layoff is 12 weeks within a 16-week period due to a public health  emergency. Notice of a temporary layoff is not required for public health emergencies. If an employer lays off employees periodically for a total of more than 12 weeks in a 16-week period, the employees are considered to be terminated and are entitled to termination payments, included banked time, vacation pay and other benefits. Be cautious when considering temporary layoff of any employee who is on self-isolation leave for medical reasons. Consideration should also be given to other programs available from both the federal and provincial governments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government of Saskatchewan, Ministry of Immigration and Career Training (ICT) supports employers and industries through programs and services targeted at developing, attracting and retaining a skilled workforce. 

The Employer Services Branch with the ministry of ICT to offer our concierge services for employers by helping you with navigate and select the appropriate Government of Saskatchewan and Government of Canada programs and services.  This service helps identify and address obstacles that stand in the way of innovative solutions to your labour and workforce issues. Please review their website. Please note, the web pages will be under continual development and revision as new information becomes available.  You can also call 306-787-7428 or email employerservices@gov.sk.ca.