On August 20, 2020, the federal government made an important announcement regarding its economic pandemic response plan as the Canadian economy gradually reopens. It announced important changes to certain programs that support workers including, the extension of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit ("CERB"), three new COVID-19 benefits, and easing eligibility requirements for Employment Insurance.
Canada Emergency Response Benefit ("CERB")
The Canadian government implemented the CERB program as a temporary response to support Canadians who had to stop working due to the pandemic. The CERB program provides a taxable benefit of $2,000 per month and until recently could last for 24-week period. Now, Canadians who are unable to work because of reasons related to COVID-19 will be able to apply for and receive CERB for up to a 28-week period.
As the CERB begins to wind down, the government plans to implement three new benefits to provide support to Canadians who continue to face financial hardship during the reopening of the economy. The federal government will introduce new legislation to support the implementation of the following three new benefits:
- The Canada Recovery Benefit ("CRB") will provide $400 per week for up to 26 weeks to workers who are not eligible for EI (those who are mainly self-employed or working in the "gig economy") and who still require income support and who are available and looking for work.
Eligible workers will have earned at least $5,000 in employment and/or self-employment income in 2019 and 2020, and not have quit their job voluntarily. They will also be required to reapply after every two-week period and attest that they continue to meet the requirements.
- The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) will provide $500 per week for up to two weeks, for workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19. Applicants will not be required to provide a medical certificate to qualify for the benefit. They also will not be eligible for CRSB if they receive other paid sick leave during the same benefit period.
- The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) will provide $500 per week for up to 26 weeks per household for eligible Canadians unable to work because they must care for:
- a child under age 12 due to school or daycare closures as a result of COVID-19;
- a family member with a disability or a dependent whose day program or care facility is closed due to COVID-19;
- a child, a family member with a disability, or a dependent who is not attending school, daycare, or other care facilities under the advice of a medical professional due to being at high-risk if they contract COVID-19; or
- a child, a family member with a disability, or a dependent whose caregiver usually provides care is not available for reasons related to COVID-19;
New eligibility requirements for Employment Insurance
Canadians whose employment were affected by COVID-19 may have been unable to accumulate the number of insurable hours required for Employment Insurance benefits ("EI"). The federal government proposes to provide EI claimants with a one-time insurable hours credit to ensure that workers qualify with a minimum of 120 insurable hours of work.
The hours credit will also be made retroactive to March 15, 2020 for claimants who were looking to transition early from the CERB to EI maternity, parental, compassionate care, family caregiver or work-sharing benefits but could not establish their EI claim due to insufficient hours. For these claimants, the qualifying period will also be extended.
The hours credit will be available for new EI claims for one year, in recognition that labour market conditions remain uncertain and will take time to stabilize. The government also proposed to freeze the EI premium rate for employees and employers at the 2020 level for two years.
These new announcements regarding employee eligibility for benefits will likely have an impact on many employers as they manage their workforce in an effort to reopen operations. To learn more about these federal programs and resulting employer obligations, please contact a member of Gowling WLG's Employment, Labour & Equalities Group.