March 18, 2020 COVID-19 Update

As the COVID-19 situation in Canada and around the world continues to develop rapidly, we are providing our fifth update to employers. Below is an update on important information announced since our last update on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. We remain available to you to answer any specific questions you may have.




Today, the federal government announced details around a new $82 billion spending package. Approximately, $27 billion will go to direct supports to businesses and employees. A number of new programs were announced.


1.   Emergency Care Benefit - This benefit is for workers (including the self-employed) who do not qualify for EI sickness benefits, do not have paid sick leave and who are sick or quarantined as a result of COVID-19, are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, and parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures and are unable to earn employment income. The federal government anticipates this application will be open in April. The Benefit will provide up to $900 every two weeks for up to 15 weeks.


2.   Emergency Support Benefit - This new benefit is for workers who lose their jobs as a result of the impact of COVID-19 and who are not eligible for EI. This benefit is currently estimated to total up to $5 billion but no further details are currently available.


3.   Expanded EI Work Sharing Program - As was previously announced, the federal government has announced temporary changes to the EI Work Sharing Program, which provides EI benefits to workers who agree to reduce their normal hours as a result of developments beyond the control of employers. The agreements have been extended up to a maximum of 76 weeks, the eligibility requirements have been eased, and the application process has been streamlined. More information can be found here and we would be happy to discuss this option with you further.


4.   Temporary Wage Subsidy - Corporations eligible for the small business deduction, non-profit organizations and charities will be eligible for a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Employers can take advantage of this immediately by reducing the remittance of income tax withheld on their employees' remuneration.


A number of other measures have been announced, including: a six-month interest-free moratorium on Canada Student Loan repayment; a temporary enhancement of the Canada Child Benefit; a temporary enhancement of the GST Credit for low-income Canadians; enhanced direct supports to people experiencing homelessness; $50 million to women's shelters and sexual assault centres; $305 million for an Indigenous Community Support Fund; deferring the tax return filing date to June 1, 2020 for individuals; and allowing all taxpayers (including businesses) to defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing between now and September, 2020. Other measures specifically for businesses can be found here.


The federal government has indicated details about further measures will be forthcoming in the future.



As announced on Friday, March 13, 2020, the Alberta government has adopted an Employment Standards (COVID-19 Leave) Regulation. The Regulation creates an unpaid leave for 14 consecutive days for employees under quarantine. Quarantine is defined as "any self-isolation and self-quarantine as a result of COVID-19, as may be recommended or directed by the Chief Medical Officer". This leave is in addition to the existing entitlement to 16 weeks unpaid leave in a calendar year for illness or injury that already exists in the Employment Standards Code. These changes are retroactive to March 5, 2020. 


The usual requirement for a medical note, that the employee be employed for 90 days, and that the employee give written notice of the date the employee intends to return to work are waived. 


It is important to note the unpaid nature of this leave, making it clear that employers are not required to bear this cost. Instead, income support to these employees will be provided through EI Sickness benefits and new federal government assistance programs as referenced above.


At this time, no new job-protected leave has been enacted in Alberta for parents or others who are required to stay home from work to care for a family member relating to COVID-19 or to care for children as a result of school and daycare closures. This kind of leave has been announced in some other provinces. Employees may have access to previously existing entitlements of up to 5 days of job protected but unpaid Personal and Family Responsibility Leave and lengthier unpaid Compassionate Care and Critical Illness of Child Leave, depending on the circumstances.


However, we do note that Alberta employers have obligations under the Alberta Human Rights Act to not discriminate against employees on the basis of family status. In some cases, employers may be required to provide accommodations to employees who have childcare issues which may include unpaid time off work or working from home as appropriate. While not the same as a job-protected leave, that does mean employers should carefully consider their obligations to those employees before terminating their employment (or otherwise acting in such a way as to create an "adverse effect" on employees), and should seek legal advice where appropriate.




This morning, Canada and the United States announced a temporary closure of the Canada-US border to non-essential travel. The intention is that Canadian citizens be able to return to Canada, American citizens be able to return to the United States, and that trade will not be affected. Employees who cross the border for work may be affected, depending on the nature of their employment. For specific questions about how this border closure will impact your workplace, please contact us. 




Yesterday the Labour Relations Board eliminated "in person" hearings and resolution conferences. Urgent matters will be dealt with "in person" if the context requires. This change is currently planned to remain in place until April 17.


Starting Thursday, March 19th the Labour Relations Board is adjusting its staffing for the time period of March 18 to April 17, 2020. The staffing will now be:


1 - In Edmonton, the office will have one administrative staff, one Labour Relations Office, one supervisor and one adjudicator. The other staff will work from home. We will rotate among the staff who attends the office.


2 - In Calgary, the office will operate on a reduced staff also and also on a rotating basis with the others working from home. 


The Alberta Labour Relations Board will revisit this practice as we progress.


This change has also accelerated the utilization of a Board email. For Edmonton the email address is and a Calgary email address will be available in the near future. For now if you choose to email the Board for Calgary, please use the Edmonton office and we will redirect the email.



In responding to the dynamic situation being presented by COVID-19, it is important that employers are open and honest with employees about what we know and what we don't know yet. Important changes are being announced on a frequent basis.

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.