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Compliance Alert: Federal Coronavirus Relief Measures Affecting HR

The Canadian government has adopted a flurry of emergency measures in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s an overview of the actions affecting HR, businesses and employees.

EI Sickness Benefits

Effective March 15, the usual one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits has been waived for work absences caused by COVID-19 quarantine. Result: Employees whose regular weekly earnings decline by more than 40% due to COVID-19 will be able to receive up to 15 weeks’ partial income replacement right away. No medical certificate is required for employees claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine.

Emergency Care Benefit

Starting April 1, employees and self-employed persons who are sick or quarantined with COVID-19 but who don’t qualify for EI sickness benefits can apply to the CRA for an Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 to be paid out every 2 weeks over a period of up to 15 weeks. The Benefit is also available to non-sickness-benefit eligible employees and the self-employed taking care of a family member who’s ill with COVID-19 or parents who can’t earn employment income because they need to take care of their children.

Emergency Support Benefit

The CRA also announced plans to provide up to $5 billion in support to employees not eligible for EI regular benefits who lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

EI Work Sharing

On March 15, the federal government implemented temporary changes to extend EI Work Sharing, which helps companies avoid layoffs due to a temporary decline in sales and/or production of at least 10% due to circumstances beyond the employer’s control. Under Work Sharing, employees agree to work a reduced work schedule and share available hours. Highlights of the key changes applying to arrangements prompted by COVID-19 and which will remain in place through March 14, 2021:

  • Extension of maximum duration of Work Sharing Agreements from 38 weeks to 76 weeks;
  • Waiver of the usual mandatory waiting period between Agreements (which is usually equal to the number of weeks of the previous agreement up to 38 weeks); and
  • Recovery Plan requirements will be loosened up (although the details haven’t yet been announced).

Temporary Small Business Wage Subsidy

The CRA will provide eligible small businesses (including corporations eligible for the small business deduction, non-profits and charities a temporary, i.e., 3-month, wage subsidy equal to 10% of remuneration paid over the 3-month period of up to $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Employers will be allowed to reduce their income tax remittances withholdings on the employee’s pay.