COVID-19: Cross country update (April 8, 2020)

8 avril 2020

( Disponible en anglais seulement )

Federal

The Government of Canada announced the following measures:

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy

Further details on the proposed Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) were provided today by Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Amount of Subsidy

The proposed CEWS would apply at a rate of 75% of the first $58,700 normally earned by employees (i.e., up to $847 per week, per employee) for a 12-week period, from March 15 to June 6, 2020.  There is no overall limit on the amount an employer may claim.

The pre-crisis remuneration for a given employee would be based on the average weekly remuneration paid between January 1 and March 15 inclusively, excluding any seven-day periods in respect of which the employee did not receive remuneration.  Employers will also be eligible for a subsidy of up to 75% of salaries and wages paid to new employees.

Eligible remuneration may include salary, wages, and other remuneration like taxable benefits. These are amounts for which employers would generally be required to withhold or deduct to remit to the Receiver General on account of the employee’s income tax obligation. However, it does not include severance pay, or items such as stock option benefits or the personal use of a corporate vehicle.

A special rule will apply to employees that do not deal at arm’s length with the employer. The subsidy amount for such employees will be limited to the eligible remuneration paid in any pay period between March 15 and June 6, 2020, up to a maximum benefit of the lesser of $847 per week and 75% of the employee’s pre-crisis weekly remuneration. The subsidy would only be available in respect of non-arm’s length employees employed prior to March 15, 2020.

Eligibility

The CEWS would be available to eligible employers that see a drop of at least 15% of their revenue in March 2020 and 30% for the following months.

Employers of all sizes and across all sectors of the economy would be eligible, with certain exceptions including public sector entities.  Public bodies generally include municipalities and local governments, Crown corporations, wholly owned municipal corporations, public universities, colleges, schools and hospitals.

All employers would be expected to make their best efforts to bring employees’ wages to their pre-crisis levels.

The government is also proposing the following flexibility:

  • To measure revenue loss, all employers will have the flexibility to compare their revenue of March, April and May 2020 to that of the same month of 2019, or to an average of their revenue earned in January and February 2020.  In applying for the subsidy, employers would be required to attest to the decline in revenue.
  • An employer’s revenue for this purpose would be its revenue in Canada earned from arm’s-length sources. Revenue would be calculated using the employer’s normal accounting method, and would exclude revenues from extraordinary items and amounts on account of capital.
  • In recognition that the time between when revenue is earned and when it is paid could be highly variable in certain sectors of the economy, employers will be allowed to measure revenues either on the basis of accrual accounting (as they are earned) or cash accounting (as they are received).  Employers must select one of these accounting methods when first applying for the CEWS and would be required to use that method for the duration of the program.
  • For registered charities and non-profit organizations, the calculation will include most forms of revenue, excluding revenues from non-arm’s length persons. These organizations would be allowed to choose whether or not to include revenue from government sources as part of the calculation. Once chosen, the same approach would have to apply throughout the program period.

Employers would have to keep records demonstrating their reduction in arm’s-length revenues and remuneration paid to employees.

How to Apply

Eligible employers would be able to apply for the CEWS through the Canada Revenue Agency’s My Business Account portal as well as a web-based application.

Ensuring Compliance

Employers would be required to repay amounts paid under the CEWS if they do not meet eligibility requirements and penalties may apply in cases of fraudulent claims including fines or imprisonment.

In addition, anti-abuse rules would be put in place to ensure that the subsidy is not inappropriately obtained and to help ensure that employees are paid the amounts they are owed.

Employers that engage in artificial transactions to reduce revenue for the purpose of claiming the CEWS would be required to repay in full the improperly claimed subsidy, as well as a penalty equal to 25% of the value of the subsidy claimed.

Interactions with Other Programs

To ensure that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) applies as intended, the government is considering implementing an approach to limit duplication, including a process to allow individuals rehired by their employer during the same eligibility period to cancel their CERB claim and repay that amount.

For employers that are eligible for both the 10% wage subsidy provided in the already passed COVID-19 Emergency Response Act and the proposed CEWS, any benefit from the 10% wage subsidy for remuneration paid in a specific period would generally reduce the amount available to be claimed under the CEWS in that same period.

For employers and employees that are participating in a Work-Sharing program, EI benefits received by employees through the Work-Sharing program will reduce the benefit that their employer is entitled to receive under the CEWS.

Refund for Certain Payroll Contributions

The government is also proposing that employers eligible for the CEWS be entitled to receive a 100% refund for certain employer-paid contributions to Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, the Quebec Pension Plan, and the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.

This refund would cover 100% of employer-paid contributions for eligible employees for each week in which those employees are on leave with pay and for which the employer is eligible to claim for the CEWS for those employees.  In general, an employee will be considered to be on leave with pay throughout a week if that employee is remunerated by the employer for that week but does not perform any work for the employer in that week. This refund would not be available for eligible employees that are on leave with pay for only a portion of a week.

This refund would not be subject to the weekly maximum benefit per employee of $847 and there is no overall limit on the refund amount that an eligible employer may claim.

For greater certainty, employers would be required to continue to collect and remit employer and employee contributions to each program as usual. Eligible employers would then apply for a refund at the same time that they apply for the CEWS.

More details on both the CEWS and the refund for payroll contributions can be found in the government’s press release.

Competitor Collaborations

The Competition Bureau has issued a press release recognizing that the exceptional circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may call for the rapid establishment of business collaborations of limited duration and scope to ensure the supply of products and services that are critical to Canadians.  The Bureau has signaled in this press release that in circumstances where there is a clear imperative for companies to be collaborating in the short-term to respond to the crisis, where those collaborations are undertaken and executed in good faith and do not go further than what is needed, it will generally refrain from exercising scrutiny.  However, the Bureau has also indicated that it has zero tolerance for any attempts to abuse this flexibility as cover for unnecessary conduct that would violate the Competition Act.

Companies seeking even greater certainty on whether the Commissioner of Competition would take enforcement actions related to proposed business collaborations can reach out to the Bureau for further guidance.  The Bureau has created a team to assess proposed collaborations and provide rapid decisions to enable businesses to support the COVID-19 crisis.  Further information can be found in the Bureau’s press release.

Travel Restrictions

With the upcoming long weekend approaching, the Canada Border Services Agency has reminded Canadians that restrictions are in place on all non-essential travel for foreign nationals, including US citizens and residents, and Canadians who are planning to cross the border.  Restrictions on all non-essential travel along the Canada-US border remain in place.

Canada Summer Jobs Program Changes

The Canada Summer Jobs Program provides wage subsidies to employers from not-for-profit organizations, the public sector and private sector organizations with 50 or fewer full-time employees, who provide work experiences for young people aged 15 to 30 years.  Currently, not-for-profit employers are eligible to receive funding for up to 100% of the provincial or territorial minimum hourly wage and public and private sector employers are eligible to receive funding for up to 50% of the provincial or territorial minimum hourly wage.

Temporary changes are being made to this program to help employers adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic including:

  • an increase to the wage subsidy, so that private and public sector employers can also receive up to 100% of the provincial or territorial minimum hourly wage for each employee;
  • an extension to the end date for employment to February 28, 2021;
  • allowing employers to adapt their projects and job activities to support essential services; and
  • allowing employers to hire staff on a part-time basis.

 

British Columbia

The Government of British Columbia announced the following measures:

Farms

A guide has been created to outline recommendations for all farms to meet the orders, notices and guidance issued by BC’s Provincial Health Officer and additional mandatory requirements for farms employing temporary foreign workers. It is available for download from the Government of British Columbia’s website: « Protecting BC farmers and farm workers during the COVID-19 pandemic »

BC Parks

As of April 8, all BC provincial parks have been temporarily closed to restrict the spread of COVID-19.  BC Parks is also extending the ban on all camping in provincial parks until May 31, 2020.  The Recreation Sites and Trails BC branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has also closed its campgrounds and amenities in response to the COVID-19 situation.

Emergency Fund for Children with Special Needs

The government is establishing an Emergency Relief Support Fund for children and youth with special needs and their families and has added service flexibility for parents of children with special needs to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The fund will provide a direct payment of $225 per month to eligible families over the next three months to June 30, 2020.  A needs-based approach will be used and the payment can be used to purchase supports that help alleviate stress including:

  • meal preparation and grocery shopping assistance;
  • homemaking services;
  • caregiver relief support (e.g., funded support to allow a family member to provide temporary care for a child or youth); and
  • counselling services, online or by phone; and other services that support family functioning.

Families are encouraged to reach out to their Children and Youth with Special Needs worker to see how they can benefit from emergency help.

New Measures for Returning British Columbians

Effective immediately, there is a new legal requirement that all international travellers (including from the US) returning to BC must provide a self-isolation plan before or upon arrival to BC.  Self-isolation plans can be submitted at gov.bc.ca/returningtravellers or via the BC COVID-19 Support App and Self-Assessment Tool under “travellers.”

Beginning Friday, April 10, 2020, provincial officials will be on hand at the Vancouver International Airport and major land border crossings to make sure self-isolation plans are complete and to assist those who need it as follows:

  • If a self-isolation plan is submitted and approved, travellers will receive a confirmation and proceed to their home residence (or another identified accommodation) to self-isolate.
  • If an airline traveller arrives and an adequate self-isolation plan is proposed but needs additional support to execute safely (e.g., enlist volunteers to deliver groceries or fill prescriptions once at home), travellers may be taken or directed to an accommodation site provided in collaboration with the provincial and federal governments to begin self-isolation, while outstanding details of their plan are put in place. With an approved self-isolation plan, they may return home. Without an approved plan, they will remain at an accommodation site for 14 days.
  • If a traveller arrives at a major land border crossing and needs additional support to execute a self-isolation plan, they will be sent directly home to start self-isolating and will be followed up with by officials for additional support.
  • If a traveller does not have a self-isolation plan or is unable to safely carry one out as determined by officials, they may be transported or sent to an accommodation provided by the government where they can safely complete their 14-day self-isolation.

Emergency Management BC will help travellers with necessary food deliveries, prescription drugs and other supplies so people can safely self-isolate for 14 days.

The federal government has authority under the Quarantine Act to ensure compliance with the emergency order requiring individuals entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.  Maximum penalties for breaking this order include fines of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for 6 months, or up to $1 million and/or imprisonment up to 3 years for a person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm.

 

Alberta

The Government of Alberta announced the following measures:

Regulatory Reporting Deferrals

There will be an immediate deferral of specific legislated reporting requirements for energy companies under the Coal Conservation Act, the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and the Oil Sands Conservation Act.  These deferrals will not affect any monitoring requirements that ensure Alberta’s public safety and environmental protection, or any reporting required for royalty calculation and collection.  The order will expire on August 14, or 60 days after the date on which the public health emergency ends, whichever is earlier.

Employment Standards Code Changes

The previously discussed proposed changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code have now been implemented by way of Ministerial Order, rather than by way of Regulation, which is permitted due to powers that the Alberta government has as a result of the state of emergency.  The Ministerial Order addresses the following key changes:

Notice of Shift Changes

Section 17(2) of the Employment Standards Code currently states that an employer has to provide employees with 24 hours’ written notice of a shift change.  During the pandemic, employers are now only required to give written notice as soon as is practicable in the circumstances.

Family Responsibility Leave

This leave is currently only a 5-day unpaid leave.  During the pandemic, employees are now entitled to a job-protected leave if they are meeting responsibilities in relation to a family member who is under quarantine or a child of the employee due to closures of schools or daycares as a result of COVID-19 (effective March 17, 2020).  Such employees are exempt from the requirement to be employed for 90 days by the same employer.  While an employer can ask an employee for documentation showing entitlement to the leave that is reasonable in the circumstances, at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances, an employer cannot require an employee to provide a medical certificate.

Deemed Termination

Section 63(1) of the Employment Standards Code currently states that the “employment of an employee who is laid off for one or more periods exceeding, in total, 60 days within a 120-day period is deemed to have been terminated” (unless certain specified conditions are met), which would then lead to the requirement of termination pay.  During the pandemic, the highlighted section has been modified to extend the 60 days and it now reads:  “more than 120 consecutive days.”

Averaging Agreements

Pursuant to current regulations, two weeks of notice is required for schedule changes under an averaging agreement.  Now, the notice simply needs to be given as soon as practicably possible.

Group Termination Notice Revised

Currently, pursuant to subsection 55(1)(a) and section 137 of the Employment Standards Code, if an employer intends to terminate the employment of 50 or more employees at a single location and the terminations will occur within a 4-week period, the employer must give the Minister, the employees and their union (if there is one) at least the following amount of written notice before the date on which the first termination is to take effect:

  • 8 weeks, if there are 50 or more but fewer than 100 affected employees;
  • 12 weeks, if there are 100 or more but fewer than 300 affected employees; or
  • 16 weeks, if there are 300 or more affected employees.

The requirement to provide this group termination notice to employees and unions has now been removed and is simply replaced with a requirement that employers who intend to terminate the employment of 50 or more employees at a single location must, as soon as is practicable in the circumstances, give the Minister written notice specifying the number of employees whose employment will be terminated and the effective date of the terminations.  This does not apply to the termination of employees who are employed on a seasonable basis or for a definite term or task.

Duration of Changes

The changes set out in this Order will lapse, unless it is sooner continued by an order of the Lieutenant Governor in Council under section 52.811(3) of the Public Health Act (PHA), at the earliest of the following:

  • August 14, 2020;
  • 60 days after the Order in Council 080/2020 is terminated by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, if the Order in Council 080/2020 is terminated before June 15, 2020;
  • when this Order is terminated by the Minister under section 52.811(2) of the PHA because the Minister is satisfied that this Order is no longer in the public interest; or
  • when this Order is terminated by the Lieutenant Governor in Council under section 52.811(1)(c) of the PHA.

 

Saskatchewan

The Government of Saskatchewan announced the following measures:

Access to testing for COVID-19 has been increased through the creation of 38 testing sites around the province and staff has been tripled for contact tracing efforts to detect and prevent community transmission.

The following are some of the measures the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is taking in its next phase of pandemic response:

  • Creating dedicated spaces within many of its facilities to create cohorts of COVID-19 patients;
  • Designating certain hospitals as COVID-19 hospitals (these changes are not immediate, but if required, the SHA has identified 20 out of its 65 hospitals that could be designated COVID-19 hospitals); and
  • Adding acute care capacity through the creation of field hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina, with more locations being considered as part of later, contingency planning.

 

Manitoba

The Government of Manitoba announced the following measures:

Call for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

On April 8, the Province put out a special request for nitrile and vinyl gloves and other medical supplies to support its response to COVID-19.  Specially, the government is asking to purchase PPE that is no longer being used by businesses such as dentist offices, salons, therapy clinics or any other groups that have these items available.

Businesses and manufacturers in Manitoba who can provide supplies or scale-up production lines to develop PPE are asked to visit manitoba.ca/covid19supplies.

Manitoba 150 Celebrations on Hold

On April 8, Premier Brian Pallister announced that due to the significant public health concerns surrounding COVID-19 and large public gatherings, major celebrations commemorating Manitoba’s 150th anniversary are being paused for 2020.

Youth Support

On April 8, Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced that steps are being taken to extend supports and services to all young adults who would otherwise age out of the Child and Family Services system during the pandemic.  The Manitoba government will continue to extend supports to all youth currently in care who turn 18 between March 20 and Sept. 30.  This includes extending foster care placements and ensuring that youth who choose to move out of foster care continue to receive financial support.  Moreover, Housing will make 10 additional units available to provide stable, secure housing to young adults who are aging out of care and other youth in contact with the child welfare system.

 

Ontario

The Government of Ontario announced the following measures:

Extending Construction Hours

On April 8, Premier Doug Ford, Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, announced that the Province is extending construction hours for essential construction projects, like critical projects in the health care sector, to 24 hours a day. Work on new hospital builds, expansions, and COVID-19 assessment centres will be able to continue any time of the night or day in order to help accelerate their construction.

Ontario will temporarily limit local noise bylaws from applying to these types of essential construction activities beginning April 7, 2020.

Cannabis Retail

On April 7, the Province issued an order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act temporarily permitting cannabis retail stores to re-open for curbside pickup and delivery services. This order follows the Province’s declaration days earlier that all recreational cannabis stores are a non-essential service resulting in them being closed for at least two weeks.  The reopening is effective immediately and will last as long as the provincial state of emergency is in place, which is currently set to end on April 13.

 

Quebec

The Government of Quebec announced the following measures:

On April 8, the Province announced two new measures to support the forestry sector. First, the Bureau de mise en marché des bois will assess the cost of setting up the necessary means to ensure the physical distance of forestry workers, both in public and private forests. This includes the costs related to workers’ travel and accommodations. These additional costs will be added to the rate schedules for forestry work for the year 2020-2021.

Moreover, to increase the cash flow of forestry companies, the government deferred the March 2020 and beyond billing for volumes harvested from public forests to September 2020. This represents approximately $60 million. In September, the suspended billing will be spread over the rest of the year.

On April 8, the urban agglomeration of Montreal adopted a resolution extending the state of health emergency at the local level for a period of 5 days.

On April 7, an Order was adopted to renew the state of public health emergency throughout the Quebec territory and extend the measures provided for by orders in council and by ministerial orders for a period of 10 days, that is, until April 16, 2020.

As of April 7, by ministerial decree, the government restricted travel and access deemed non-essential to two additional territories: the territory of the parish municipality of Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs located in the Bas-Saint-Laurent and the territory of the county municipalities of Bellechasse, L’Islet and Montmagny in the Chaudière-Appalaches region.

Following the April 6 announcement regarding the new Programme actions concertées pour le maintien en emploi, the government specified that companies wishing to apply should contact a business advisor in their area. For more information, please consult the website dedicated to this program.

Following the April 3 announcement concerning the Programme incitatif pour la rétention des travailleurs essentiel, the government specified that claims for benefits should be made from May 19 and no later than November 15, 2020.  As of May 19, you may apply for benefits online.  Please consult the Revenu Québec website for more information.

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Le gouvernement du Québec a annoncé les mesures suivantes:

Le 8 avril, le Gouvernement du Québec a annoncé deux nouvelles mesures pour de soutenir adéquatement le secteur forestier. Premièrement, le Bureau de mise en marché des bois évaluera les coûts de mise en place de moyens nécessaires pour assurer la distanciation physique des travailleurs en sylviculture, tant dans les forêts publiques que privées. Ceci inclut notamment les coûts liés aux déplacements des travailleurs et à leur hébergement. Ces coûts s’ajouteront aux grilles de taux des travaux sylvicoles pour l’année 2020-2021.

Deuxièmement, pour augmenter les liquidités des entreprises sylvicoles, le gouvernement a reporté en septembre 2020 la facturation des volumes récoltés dans les forêts publiques au cours du mois de mars 2020 et des mois suivants. Ceci représente environ 60 M$. À compter de septembre, la facturation suspendue sera étalée sur le reste de l’année.

Le 8 avril, l’agglomération montréalaise a adopté une résolution prolongeant l’état d’urgence sanitaire au niveau local pour une période de 5 jours.

Le 7 avril, un décret a été adopté pour renouveler l’état d’urgence sanitaire sur tout le territoire québécois et prolonger les mesures prévues par arrêtés ministériels pour une période de 10 jours, soit jusqu’au 16 avril 2020.

À compter du 7 avril, par arrêté ministériel, le gouvernement a restreint les déplacements et l’accès jugés non essentiels à de nouveaux territoires incluant: le territoire de la municipalité de paroisse de Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs situé dans le Bas-Saint-Laurent et les territoires du comté de Bellechasse, de L’Islet et de Montmagny dans la région Chaudière-Appalaches.

Suivant l’annonce du 6 avril concernant le nouveau Programme actions concertées pour le maintien en emploi, le gouvernement a précisé que les entreprises qui souhaitent faire une demande doivent contacter un conseiller aux entreprises de leur région. Pour plus d’informations, veuillez consulter le site internet dédié à ce programme.

Suivant l’annonce du 3 avril concernant le Programme incitatif pour la rétention des travailleurs essentiels, le gouvernement a précisé que les demandes de prestations devront être effectuées à partir du 19 mai et au plus tard le 15 novembre 2020. À compter du 19 mai, vous pourrez faire votre demande de prestations en ligne. Veuillez consulter le site internet de Revenu Québec pour plus d’informations.

 

New Brunswick

The Government of New Brunswick announced the following measures:

Effective April 8, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission released online information which, among other things, adopts the view that “individuals who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive for the virus would, for the purposes of human rights, be considered as persons with physical disability, which is protected as a ground of discrimination under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act.”

The province also reminded residents that restrictions are in place for all gatherings, including religious celebrations.

 

Prince Edward Island

The Government of Prince Edward Island announced the following measures:

Effective April 7, the province announced that it is extending the employer deadline for the Jobs for Youth program to April 30 to allow employers ample time to apply for wage subsidies from this program.  Approved businesses will be posted to the province’s website and young people will apply directly to the jobs that interest them.  The Jobs for Youth Program normally supports 400 students annually.

 

Yukon

The Government of the Yukon announced the following measures:

Effective April 7, in-class learning is suspended for the remainder of the school year, but the provision of educational programs under the Education Act is to resume on April 16.  Yukon Learning Continuity Requirements have been developed and shared with Yukon schools to inform plans for at-home learning throughout the territory.

Additionally, the government issued an order which exempts individuals from the requirement to self-isolate upon entering the territory if they enter in order to engage in the exercise of specifically enumerated aboriginal and treaty rights.  While in Yukon for the purpose of engaging in the exercise of such rights, an individual must not go into any Yukon community. Immediately after exercising the rights, the individual must leave Yukon.

 

Northwest Territories

The Government of the Northwest Territories announced the following measures:

Effective April 8, the government announced the establishment of an Enforcement Task Force which will enforce public health orders.

 

Nunavut

The Government of Nunavut announced the following measures:

Effective April 8, the government issued a statement clarifying that the April 7 announcement regarding school staff returning to work on April 21 pertains to staff only, and that the decision to re-open schools has not yet been made.

 

Miller Thomson is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure that we provide our clients with appropriate support in this rapidly changing environment. For articles, information updates and firm developments, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.

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