B.C. Temporary Layoff Variance Deadline Approaching and Federal Benefits Updates

By Preston I.A.D. Parsons and Gurpreet Gill

COVID-19 temporary layoff variance - Deadline reminder

As we reported to you in our last newsletter, on June 25, 2020 the B.C. government extended the maximum period for temporary COVID-19 related layoffs to a maximum of 24 weeks ending August 30, 2020. At that time the government informed that if employers and workers require a further extension beyond August 30, 2020, employers may apply for variance under section 72 of the Employment Standards Act (the "Act") to the Employment Standards Branch (ESB).

On July 20, 2020, the government unveiled a new tool to apply for variance using the ESB's new online application. This new online application is intended to simplify and streamline the process by eliminating the need for hard copy documents and signatures.

Employers and employees who are looking to extend the temporary layoff period beyond August 30, 2020 must submit a joint application to the ESB by August 25, 2020 to receive a decision by August 30, 2020. A variance is asking the ESB to vary part of the Act. It allows for situations that do not strictly adhere to the Act, but align with its intent.

To apply for variance, support of more than 50 percent of affected employees is required. Once employee support is documented, employers can complete the online form and submit documents to the ESB. There are no costs to apply and the process takes approximately 15 minutes.

The ESB will notify employers if their application has been granted. Each application will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Director of the ESB has authority to set a new layoff expiration date as well as other conditions. An extension of temporary layoff beyond December 31, 2020 will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

The extension through variance is beneficial to both employers and employees. Employers do not need to terminate employees and provide termination pay and employees remain employed continuously without interruption to their rate of pay, vacation accrual, years of service, benefits and leaves of absence.

Note that if your employees' temporary layoffs end before August 30, 2020, you do not need to apply.

The application portal can be found here.

CEWS Proposed Changes

On July 17, 2020, the federal government announced proposed changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

The proposed changes included in the draft legislative proposal:

  • provide a further extension of the CEWS from August 29, 2020 until December 19, 2020, including redesigned program details for the period until November 21, 2020;
  • extend the deadline for applications until January 31, 2021;
  • make the subsidy accessible to a broader range of employers, including those employers with any revenue decline of less than 30 percent and providing a gradually decreasing base subsidy to all qualifying employers; and
  • introduce a top-up subsidy up to an additional 25 percent for employers most adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest changes to come into effect along with details on how to apply are summarized here.

Transitioning Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to Employment Insurance (EI)

On July 31, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government plans to transition recipients of CERB to EI. The last scheduled pay period of CERB is set to expire September 26, 2020.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced that the federal government will move as many Canadians as possible from CERB to EI and that the EI system is ready for the change.

Other announcements included the creation of a new "transitional, parallel benefit" similar to EI for contract and gig economy workers, and a "sickness and caregivers benefit" to provide coverage for Canadians not covered at work if they contract COVID-19 or have to stay home to look after family members ill from COVID-19.

More details of what comes after CERB are set to be announced in the coming weeks.

Closing Remarks

The coming weeks and months continue to see changes and events unfolding as the British Columbian and Canadian economies adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain committed to bringing you updates relevant to employees and businesses.