April 7, 2020 COVID-19 Update

As the COVID-19 situation in Canada and around the world continues to develop rapidly, we are providing our twelfth update to employers. Below is an important update on yesterday's Ministerial Order issued by Alberta's Minister of Labour and Immigration and the rollout of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available and we remain available to you to answer any specific questions you may have.
Temporary Amendments - Alberta Employment Standards Code and Regulation
The Alberta Government announced yesterday a series of temporary amendments to the Employment Standards Code ("Code") and Regulation that provide for the following:
  • An increase in the maximum number of days allowed for temporary layoffs from 60 to 120 days. Previously, subject to the agreed upon continuation of employee benefits or other forms of payment, or the terms of a Collective Agreement, temporary layoffs were restricted to one or more periods totaling 60 days in a 120-day period. This change extends the time period following which employees on temporary layoff are deemed terminated under the Code. This change applies retroactively to COVID-19 related temporary layoffs that occurred on or after March 17, 2020. This much needed change provides employers a better window of opportunity to assess workforce needs as they begin retooling from this crisis in a stepwise manner.
  • The group termination provisions under the Code no longer apply. These provisions required employers to provide an unrealistic and escalating amount of notice of termination (between 8 - 16 weeks) to the Minister, affected unions or employees, where an employer intended to terminate 50 or more employees within a 4-week period. The individual termination entitlements remain in effect and employers must still give group termination notices to the Minister of Labour and Immigration as soon as is practical.
  • Removal of the 24-hour written notice requirement for shift changes and the 2 weeks' notice requirement for schedule changes for employees working under Averaging Agreements. These changes provide employers with much needed flexibility to respond to real time demands resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Streamlining of the approval process for variances of and exemptions from Code requirements. Under the Code an application can be made to the Director or the Minister to allow variances and exemptions to the Code in exceptional circumstances. As the application and approval process can be cumbersome and slow this is a much needed and welcomed amendment at a time when efficiency is of paramount importance.
  • A job-protected leave for employees caring for children affected by school and daycare closures or family members who are ill or self-isolated due to COVID-19. Some important facets of the leave are: (a) the leave applies to all employees including those with less than 90 days of employment; (b) the length of the leave is flexible and linked to guidance from the Chief Medical Officer; (c) a medical note is not required; and (d) it does not affect the rules for other personal and family responsibility leaves.
Canadian Emergency Response Benefit ("CERB")
The CERB program opened for applications Monday April 6 at 6 a.m. ET and as of drafting of this update, over 642,000 applications have been made. The initial application process is staggered over the coming days based on birthdate with those born in January, February and March being allowed to apply Monday. In total, 3.18 million Employment Insurance and CERB applications have been made since March 15 with over 2 million of those having been processed. The Government of Canada is anticipating that Canadians will receive the benefit by direct deposit within 3-5 days of their application dates. 
To better assist your employees, you can find the CERB application page here: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application.html

In yesterday's press conference, Prime Minister Trudeau announced plans to open the CERB program to a wider rage of Canadians including those who are working 10 or fewer hours a week and are making less than the CERB benefit. This follows his announcement that the Federal Government is also working on a program to help provide university students with summer employment and provide support for those students who have lost their summer jobs. 
The Prime Minister had little to offer in Monday's press conference by way of update on the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program which still appears to be 3-6 weeks away from implementation.
We will continue to provide you with updated information as it becomes available.  As always, do not hesitate to contact us if you have specific questions about your workplace.

The information in this update is intended as general information and should not relied on as legal advice.