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Canada’s New Employment Measures Look to Address COVID-19 Effects

Canada’s New Employment Measures Look to Address COVID-19 Effects
September 28, 2020

UPDATE: On September 29, 2020, Bill C-4 received third reading in the House of Commons (without amendment) and on September 30, 2020, was introduced at first reading in the Senate. This bulletin is current up to close of business on September 28, 2020. As circumstances remain fluid, please check in with your usual Blakes contact for any updates.

On September 24, 2020, Bill C-2, An Act relating to economic recovery in response to COVID-19 (Bill C-2) was introduced in the House of Commons by federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough. Shortly thereafter, Bill C-2 was changed into Bill C-4, An Act relating to certain measures in response to COVID-19 (Bill C-4). Bill C-4 is the government’s first step in implementing the various employment-related measures and programs announced during the Throne Speech of September 23, 2020, which measures are intended to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Canadian population by creating jobs, reducing unemployment rates and providing workers unable to work due to the current situation with financial support.

MEASURES AND PROGRAMS UNDER BILL C-4

Bill C-4 has only passed first reading, but a review of the proposed legislative provisions indicates that the adoption of this bill has two main objectives, namely the implementation of three new financial assistance programs for workers unable to work due to situations related to COVID-19, and the amendment of the Canada Labour Code provisions pertaining to COVID-19-related leaves of absence.

1. New Financial Assistance Programs for Workers

At the beginning of the pandemic, the government moved quickly to create the Canada Emergency Response Benefits (CERB), as a temporary program to assist millions of Canadian who lost their employment due to the unprecedented situation.

Given that the economic restart is well underway, the government considers that the CERB recipients should now transfer to the employment insurance (EI) system. For people who would not traditionally qualify for EI, Bill C-4 provides for the creation of three new temporary benefits to support Canadians who are unable to work due to COVID-19:

  • Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which would provide C$500 per week for up to 26 weeks, for self-employed workers and others who are not eligible for EI and who still require income support

  • Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), which would provide C$500 per week for up to two weeks, for workers who are unable to work because: (i) they contracted or might have contracted COVID-19; (ii) they have underlying conditions, are undergoing treatments or have contracted other sicknesses that, in the opinion of a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, person in authority, government or public health authority, would make them more susceptible to COVID-19; or (iii) they isolated themselves on advice of their employer, a medical practitioner, a nurse practitioner, person in authority, government or public health authority for reasons related to COVID-19

  • Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRBC), which would provide C$500 per week for up to 26 weeks per household, for eligible Canadians unable to work because they must care for a child under the age of 12 or family member because school, daycares or care facilities are closed due to COVID-19 or because the child or family member is sick and/or required to quarantine

If Bill C-4 passes, Canadians will be able to apply for CRB, CRSB and CRCB through the Canada Revenue Agency portal for one year, up until September 25, 2021.

2. New Protected Leaves of Absence for Federally Regulated Employees

In conjunction with the implementation of those three new temporary benefits, Bill C-4 also provides for amendments to the Canada Labour Code with respect to the reasons for which federally regulated employees are entitled to take protected leaves of absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include:

  • A leave of absence of up to two weeks for workers who are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19, as set out above, to qualify for the CRSB

  • A leave of absence of up to 26 weeks to care for a child under the age of 12 or a family member who requires supervised care for the reasons set out above to qualify for the CRCB

These amendments to the statutory leaves of absence prescribed by the Canada Labour Code are clearly in line with the new financial assistance programs provided for in Bill C-4 and are intended to protect workers who will have to take time off work for these reasons. If Bill C-4 is passed, it will be interesting to see whether provincial governments will follow the lead and also enact new provisions to provide similar protected leaves of absence for provincially regulated employees.

OTHER MEASURES ANNOUNCED DURING THE THRONE SPEECH

In addition to the measures proposed in Bill C-4, several other employment-related measures were announced by the governor general on September 23, 2020, which have not yet been implemented. This fall, the government will release an update to Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, which will outline the government’s economic and fiscal position, provide fiscal projections, and provide the actual plan for the implementation of the other measures announced by the governor general during the Speech from the Throne. The below are two employment-related measures of note:

Disability Inclusion

COVID-19 has also disproportionately affected Canadians with disabilities. Hence, the government intends to bring forward a disability inclusion plan, which will have:

  • A new Canada Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors

  • A robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities

  • A better process to determine eligibility for Government disability programs and benefits

Workforce Training

The government will invest in training for workers, including by: supporting Canadians as they build new skills in growing sectors; helping workers receive education and accreditation; and strengthening workers’ futures by connecting them to employers, in order to grow and strengthen the economy.

For further information, please contact:

Catherine Gagné                       514-982-4085
Sarah Rohmann                        514-982-4120

or any other member of our Employment & Labour group.

Please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre to learn more about how COVID-19 may impact your business.