Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) program will be extended by eight weeks. The CERB has provided payments of $2,000 per month for a maximum period of 16 weeks for individuals who have been without work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension is timely, as applicants who signed up for the CERB in late March have been concerned that the benefit would cease at the end of June.
The CERB extension will give many Canadians who are still out of work continued temporary relief as the economy reopens gradually through the summer months. The federal government recognizes that many Canadians continue to struggle to pay their bills as they look for jobs or hope to be recalled to work. Some business groups, however, feel that the CERB program should be modified to cease the benefit if employees refuse to return to work (absent health or child-care issues) or fail to actively look for work. To date, there are no such restrictions on CERB recipients. The federal government also announced that it will be enacting legislation shortly to punish individuals who have filed fraudulent claims for the CERB.
The provincial government in Ontario recently announced that many businesses and services will reopen on Friday, June 19, 2020. This includes the following public health unit regions:
- Durham Region Health Department;
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit;
- Halton Region Health Department;
- Hamilton Public Health Services;
- Lambton Health Unit;
- Niagara Region Public Health Department; and
- York Region Public Health Services.
The Ontario government is allowing these regions to enter Stage 2 of its reopening framework due to lower transmission rates of COVID-19 and sufficient health care capacities in those regions. As businesses reopen, employers will be recalling employees laid-off when they were forced to shut down and there will be more opportunities for new jobs as well. The provincial government will continue to monitor Peel, Toronto and Windsor-Essex County who remain in Stage 1 until trends in those areas show signs of improvement.
Before businesses reopen, employers need to be vigilant and ensure that they are following the advice of public health officials. Employers still have a duty to keep their employees safe. The provincial government has issued workplace safety guidelines for employers.
The guidelines provide important resources for different business sectors. They contain recommendations and tips for employers on how to keep their workers safe. Posters are also available for employers to provide important information about physical distancing and workplace sanitation. Additional tips for maintaining a safe workplace can be found in our previous blog.
Employers need to be mindful that some employees may refuse to return to work due to fears of COVID-19 transmission. In those cases, employers should reach out to employment counsel to help them navigate these situations to avoid potential legal liability.