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Bulletin | Covid-19

Daily Workplace Wrap-up on COVID-19 for April 24, 2020

Fasken
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Labour, Employment & Human Rights Bulletin

Below are the key government announcements made on April 24, 2020 that touch on workplace issues. Our daily and weekend overviews of previous government announcements, employment analyses and other COVID-19 information are available here

The Federal Government

The Prime Minister announced that the federal government has reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (“CECRA”) program for small businesses. This program will lower rent by 75% for eligible small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. The key details of the program announced by the government are as follows:

  • the program will provide forgivable loans to qualifying commercial property owners to cover 50% of three monthly rent payments payable by eligible small business tenants who are experiencing financial hardship during April, May, and June 2020;
  • the loans will be forgiven if the property owner agrees to reduce the eligible small business tenants’ rent by at least 75% for the three corresponding months under a rent forgiveness agreement, which will include a term not to evict the tenant while the agreement is in place. The small business tenant would be liable to pay the remaining 25% of rent;
  • eligible small business tenants are those paying less than $50,000 per month in rent who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70% drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues. This support will also be available to non-profit and charitable organizations.

Prime Minister Trudeau indicated that the government will announce rent support for larger businesses in the future.

On April 22, 2020, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) indicated that it would allow special favorable tax treatment to employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] In particular, the CRA will accept that the reimbursement of an employee, for amounts spent on personal computer equipment to enable the employee to work from home, will not be a taxable benefit to the employee. This relief is to apply for amounts up to $500 and only in respect of amounts for which the employee provides receipts.

This departs from the standard-course taxation of home office expenses, according to which if an employee receives a reimbursement for home office equipment, it is characterized as a personal expense, primarily for the employee’s benefit, and therefore a taxable benefit.

Alberta

The government announced the launch of a $1-billion Site Rehabilitation Program to support the oil and gas industry as well as accelerate environmental reclamation efforts across the province. The details of the program are as follows:

  • the program will provide grants to oil field service contractors to perform well, pipeline, and oil and gas closure and reclamation work;
  • it is estimated that the program will create approximately 5,300 jobs;
  • contractors with approved grant applications will receive:
    • 10% of the grant amount once their application is approved;
    • up to another 60% after submitting interim invoicing and reports; and
    • the remainder of the grant when the work is completed and professionally attested; and
  • applications open on May 1, 2020.

Eligibility requirements with respect to the program can be found here.

British Columbia

The government announced that it will begin accepting applications for the BC Emergency Benefit for Workers (the “Benefit”), on May 1, 2020. The Benefit will provide a $1,000 tax-free payment to British Columbians whose ability to work has been impacted by COVID-19 and who have been approved to receive the federal Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

The Solicitor General published an amended Protection Against Liability (COVID-19) Order (No. 2).  Under the amended Order, persons operating or providing Essential Services (listed in the Appendix to the Order) will not be held liable for damages that result, directly or indirectly, from exposure to COVID-19, provided that:

  • the Essential Service was provided in accordance with all applicable emergency and public health guidance; or
  • the person had a reasonable belief that the Essential Service was being provided in accordance with such guidance,

except for individuals or entities that exercise gross negligence.

Manitoba

The government announced a Summer Student Recovery Plan (the “Student Plan”), a new program that will provide support to employers and high school and post-secondary students (age 15 to 29) from May 1 to September 4, 2020. The Student Plan provides up to $120-million for a $7/hour wage subsidy, up to a maximum of $5,000 per student.  Employers can be subsidized for up to 5 students, and reimbursement will be provided at the end of the employment period with proof of wage payment.

The government also announced that individuals who are in receipt of Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) and who qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will continue to receive their EIA benefits. 

New Brunswick

The government announced a loosening of public health restrictions in the province’s first phase of its recovery plan. This plan will be guided by four distinct public health alert levels, each with incremental measures to re-open businesses, educational facilities, the health-care system, recreational activities and cultural events as COVID-19 circumstances evolve.  A description of each public health alert level can be found here.

The government amended its State of Emergency order.  As a result, the following are permitted:

  • Two-household bubbles: Households may now choose to spend time with one other household, if both households agree. The selection made is not interchangeable, such that people may not overlap with other households or families;
  • Golf courses and driving ranges: If all physical distancing and safety measures are in place, golf courses and driving ranges can now open;
  • Recreational fishing and hunting: The delay of the Spring season has been lifted;
  • Outdoor spaces: With physical distancing, people can now enjoy the outdoors including parks and beaches;
  • Carpooling: Co-workers or neighbours can carpool if physical distancing measures are maintained by transporting the passenger in the backseat;
  • Post-secondary education: Students requiring access to campus to fulfill their course requirements are able to do so; 
  • Outdoor religious services: As an alternative to online worship, religious organizations can hold outdoor or “drive in” services if parishioners stay in their vehicles and are parked two metres apart.

Large gatherings, events and concerts are still prohibited through to December 31, 2020.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The Chief Medical Officer of Health ordered that employers who bring in workers from outside of the country must provide a 14 day isolation plan for those workers (upon the workers entering the province), effective Monday, April 27, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. N.D.T.

Nova Scotia

The government announced a Small Business Credit Support Program for businesses which are ineligible for the federal CEBA program. To be eligible, small businesses must:

  • have had a payroll of less than $20,000 in their last fiscal year; and
  •  all out-of-province and foreign licence plates and driver licences are valid until August 31, 2020.

The program will provide a government-guaranteed credit union loan of up to $25,000 and a small cash grant of up to $1,500. Business will also receive free professional advice on how to adapt and recover from the financial impacts of COVID-19.

The government also confirmed it will partner with the federal government to provide $9-million in commercial rent relief for small businesses that have temporarily closed or experienced a revenue decline of at least 70%. 

Finally, the government announced the following extensions for some Registry of Motor Vehicle Services:

  • all driver licences expiring in March, April, May and June 2020 will have a five-month extension from the original expiry date;
  • motor vehicle inspections expiring in March, April or May 2020 will now be valid until June 30, 2020;
  • vehicle registrations expiring December 31, 2019, and later, are extended until August 31, 2020. This includes all vehicle types, as well as off highway vehicles, motorcycles and trailers;
  • all temporary permits expiring in March 2020 or later are extended until August 31, 2020;
  • all blue permanent accessible parking permits are valid until August 31, 2020; and
  • all out of province and foreign licence plates and driver licences are valid until August 31, 2020.

Ontario

The government announced $241-million in rent assistance for small business and landlords, in conjunction with the federal government. Eligible commercial property owners experiencing rent shortfalls related to COVID-19 will receive forgivable loans if they meet certain requirements to provide relief to their tenants.

The government also issued a new emergency regulation on April 22, 2020 regarding work deployment measures for mental health and addictions agencies. The order is similar to those issued for long-term care homes, hospitals, and public health units, and provides mental health and addictions agencies with flexibility in making staffing decisions, irrespective of any collective agreements.

Prince Edward Island

The government announced a number of financial initiatives to support the agricultural industry.

Quebec

Premier Legault asked anyone who is available to work in long-term care homes (CHSLDs) on a full-time basis during the next several weeks, regardless of their qualifications, to register to do so.  Those who are hired will be paid $21.28 per hour.

Premier Legault warned that any temporary help/personnel agencies who are charging premium prices to take advantage of needs during the COVID-19 pandemic could be the subject of regulatory action by the government in the near future.

The government also confirmed that a calendar developed by public health authorities will be submitted next week for the gradual reopening of schools and businesses.  As part of its reopening plan, the government expects:

  • the wearing of masks, particularly on public transit and when social distancing is not possible, will be recommended;
  • testing will be an integral part of the process;
  • it will react and change its plans in the event the spread of COVID-19 is not contained in accordance with the plan; and
  • the health of Quebecers will remain the priority.

Saskatchewan

The Chief Medical Health Officer issued:

  • a Public Health Order restricting all non-critical travel into northern Saskatchewan, specifically the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District. The Public Health Order was not published as of 5:00 p.m. E.D.T. on April 24, 2020; and
  • a strong recommendation against non-essential travel between communities within northern Saskatchewan.

The government also announced that the federal and provincial governments have agreed to increase the 2020 AgriStability interim benefit payment percentage from 50% to 75% for Saskatchewan producers.

Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon

In the Northwest Territories, the government announced additional support for essential workers responding to COVID-19 to ensure access to child care.

In the Yukon, the government extended the deadline for property tax payments to September 2, 2020 for citizens and businesses.

There were no major government updates from Nunavut as of 5:00 p.m. E.D.T. on April 24, 2020.


 

[1] CRA Views 2020-0845431C6: Taxable benefit - telework / Taxable benefit - Section 6 (1) a), 6 (1) b), April 22, 2020.

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