Employers should be prepared for employment-related issues and questions relating to the COVID-19. Business and social response to COVID-19 must continue to be dynamic. That being the case, it is important that employers and employees alike
– be reasonably educated about the issue,
– recognize the symptoms, and
– take reasonable precautions to avoid unnecessary risk
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Symptoms of the COVID-19 may take up to fourteen (14) days to appear after exposure. These include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs.
The COVID-19 is most commonly spread from an infected person through: respiratory droplets generated when one coughs or sneezes, close prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, touching an infected person, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
There are currently no vaccines available to protect against the COVID-19.
Best Practices for Employers
The following list provides some suggestions for employers to help manage this issue at work:
- Educate employees on the risks associated with the COVID-19 in order to avoid widespread panic in the workplace
- Encourage employees to stay informed by monitoring the latest developments from reliable health organizations like Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Health (Canada and Ontario) and the World Health Organization
- Display posters promoting hand-washing
- Place hand sanitizers in conspicuous areas in the workplace to remind employees to follow strong hygiene practices such as frequent hand-washing, regular disinfection of desk and computer surfaces, and proper cough in the elbow and sneeze etiquette
- Employees should allow social distancing equivalent to 6 feet between each other
- Cancel in-person employees’ meetings. Hold meetings by phone or video-conference
- Whenever possible, allow employees to work from home
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home, which would include employees with sick family members showing symptoms
- If the workplace does not have sick leave, leaves of absence, or communicable disease policies, implement them as necessary; if the workplace has such policies in place, review them and ensure they adequately address workplace protocol in the case of the spread of a communicable disease
- If anyone begins to show symptoms in the workplace, send them home right away
- If employees have traveled to any of the seriously affected areas such as China, consider requiring them to self-quarantine for fourteen (14) days upon their re-entry to Canada
- If any employees have pre-booked employment-related travel to any of the seriously affected areas, make the necessary arrangements to change travel plans until more is known about the COVID-19
- Have a designated point person who is reasonably educated on COVID-19 and who can reasonably answer questions about the workplace response to this issue
- Make resources available to your employees with respect to the COVID-19
- Stay on top of developments as they occur and to respond reasonably, and without panic, to this unfolding issue
- Ensure the workplace has adequate supplies to address an outbreak, and/or general health and safety, such as tissues, soap and water, hand sanitizers, and cleaning supplies
- Consider workplace disaster planning to be adequately prepared in the event a full pandemic unfolds
Any employee who believes that a condition in the workplace is likely to endanger their health or safety, can refuse to work under applicable occupation health and safety legislation. If an employee refuses to work, employers should handle the situation on a case-by-case basis and consider the situation on its merits. Employers are advised to err on the side of caution and consider things such as whether any individual in the workplace is symptomatic or if there has been recent travel to a place where cases of COVID-19 have been identified in larger numbers.
Federal Support – COVID-19
On March 18, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced a new set of economic measures to help stabilize the Canadian economy during this challenging period. These measures, delivered as part of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, will provide up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses.
To support businesses that are facing revenue losses and to help prevent layoffs, the federal government is proposing to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10 per cent of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. 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.
Temporary Income Support for Workers and Parents
For Canadians, without paid sick leave (or similar workplace accommodation), and who are sick, quarantined or forced to stay home to care for children, the government will be:
Waiving the one-week waiting period for those individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. This temporary measure went into effect as of March 15, 2020.
Waiving the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits
Introducing the Emergency Care Benefit providing up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This flat-payment Benefit would be administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and provide income support to:
- Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
- Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not quality for EI sickness benefits.
- Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.
Application for the Emergency Care Benefit will be available in April 2020 and requires Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility requirements. They will need to re-assessed every two weeks to reconfirm their eligibility.
Longer-Term Income Support for Employees
For Canadians who lose their jobs or face reduced hours as a result of the impact of COVID-19 impact, the government is:
- Introducing an Emergency Support Benefit delivered through the CRA to provide up to five billion dollars in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
- Implementing the EI Work Sharing Program, which provides EI benefits to workers who agree to reduce their normal working hour as a result of developments beyond the control of their employers, by extending the eligibility of such agreements to 76 weeks, easing eligibility requirements, and streamlining the application process. This was announced by the Prime Minister on March 11, 2020.
This unprecedented challenge will bring us all closer together as a community. For this moment be safe, remain healthy, empathize with your employees, support elderly citizens and be kind to one another. Contact us to discuss the options available to employers to manage the unexpected downturns.