COVID-19 Updates Round-Up

By Preston I.A.D. Parsons, Kai Ying Chieh and Gurpreet Gill

Loans for Big Business

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the next phase of support measures for business with the introduction of the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility ("LEEFF").

The purpose of LEEFF is to assist large employers. It is intended to be bridge financing, rather than a bailout, for large businesses. The purpose of the new program is to protect workers, protect jobs and avoid bankruptcies.

LEEFF will cover companies with revenues of $300 million or more, providing loans up to $60 million and guarantees of up to $80 million.

The government is also extending the business credit program which was initially for small businesses, to include mid-size businesses that need more capital. The EDC (Export Development Canada) and BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) will work with the private sector to increase access to capital in the tens of millions for Canadian companies in all industry sectors across Canada.

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy

The Federal government also announced that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy ("CEWS") is now going to be extended past June. No details have yet been provided on the specifics of the extension, though they are expected to be coming soon.

BC's Restart Plan

On May 6, 2020 the BC Government announced the BC Restart Plan (the "Plan"), aimed at mapping out the gradual re-opening of the economy while balancing ongoing public health concerns. The Plan sets out four distinct phases and a tentative timeline for the return of businesses in various industries.

Subject to the COVID-19 transmission rate remaining low or declining as expected based on the continued use of risk reduction measures such as ongoing physical distancing, the Plan anticipates the following timeframes for reopening various sectors of the economy:

Phase 1 - current operations

We are currently at Phase 1 of the Plan. During this time, industries designated as essential services have continued to operate in many cases, including essential health care, transportation, manufacturing, financial institutions, and other critical organizations.

Phase 2 - to commence mid-May

The Plan anticipates that as of May 19, certain businesses that did not fall under the essential services designation will be permitted to re-open under special enhanced protocols. Key businesses that will be permitted to re-open include the restoration of medical services; certain personal service establishments such as hair salons; child care; recreational services such as museums and sports sites; and perhaps most significantly the retail sector and office-based worksites.

Phase 3 - June to September

Assuming that the transmission rate remains low after Phase 2, the Plan anticipates a series of industries will be able to re-open on a progressive basis from June to September, as follows:

  • June: Hotels, resorts, and parks
  • June to July: the film industry, first with domestic productions
  • July: movie theatres and symphonies, but not large concerts
  • September: post-secondary education with a mix of online and in class

Phase 4 - to be determined and conditional on one of vaccination; community immunity; or broad successful treatments

Activities requiring large gatherings including conventions, professional sports, and concerts, as well as international tourism, will not begin again until one of the above public health measures is met.

The complete Plan can be viewed at this link.

While the Plan represents good news for businesses that are hoping to re-open as soon as possible, we caution that employers looking to open their doors and resume the normal course of business will be required to implement enhanced safety protocols.

Where sectors have been shut down by a Provincial Health Officer Order, re-opening will be subject to the approval of the Provincial Health Officer and it is expected that sector-specific protocols will be issued after consultation with industry associations. All employers, even those currently open but under reduced operations, will be subject to WorkSafeBC Health and Safety Guidelines. Employers will be expected to adopt appropriate COVID "Safe Plans", including by enacting policies around who can be in the workplace, including policies around sick workers and travellers, and implementing measures to reduce risk in the workplace.

We encourage our clients with questions about managing the return to operations to reach out to us well in advance of their anticipated return.

Essential Workers Wage Top-Up

On Thursday, May 7, 2020, the Prime Minister announced that a deal was reached with the provinces with respect to wage top-up for essential workers dealing with COVID-19. However, he said it was up to provincial governments to decide who gets the raise. The federal government is providing approximately $3 billion for the program with the provinces contributing an additional $1 billion. Questions concerning who gets paid and the amount are to be determined by each province. Plans to assist essential workers with wage top ups were initially announced on April 15, 2020.

We await specific details from the government of British Columbia regarding who specifically will be eligible for the top-up and how much the top-up will be. When the Prime Minister made the initial announcement on April 15, 2020, he mentioned those working in long term care facilities. However, each province has discretion in regards to who will qualify for the essential wage increase. The purpose is to provide a wage increase for those who are risking their lives during this health crisis.

Union leaders across Canada are commending the federal government on the wage top-up but stress that the government should allow the higher pay to continue past the COVID-19 pandemic. We can expect the various government announcements during this health crisis to continue to be topics of debate even beyond the pandemic.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit

The Canada Emergency Student Benefit Act received royal assent on Tuesday May 5, 2020, following announcements of a $9 billion package to assisting students that was made by the government on April 22, 2020. Our newsletter of April 24, 2020 outlined the breakdown of the $9 billon package.

To briefly recap, the CESB is available to students who were ineligible for CERB or EI and who are unable to work full-time due to COVID-19. They will receive $1,250 per month for up to four months from May - August 2020. Students with disabilities and students with dependents will receive an additional $750 per month.

More details will be made available regarding the application process soon. Current details can be found on the government website here.

In addition, the restriction that prevents international students from working more than 20 hours a week while classes are in session will be removed for those students who work in an essential service or function. This restriction has been eased until August 31, 2020.

BC Minimum Wage

British Columbia is set to increase the minimum wage on June 1, 2020. There are currently no announcements that the scheduled increase will not go ahead as planned. Currently the minimum wage is $13.85 per hour. It will increase to $14.60 on June 1, 2020. Minimum wage applies regardless of how employees are paid, be it hourly, salary, commission or on an incentive basis.

Closing Remarks

In the ever-changing wake of COVID-19, governments continue to adapt and introduce new measures supporting employers and employees in British Columbia and throughout Canada. Further direct changes to labour relations law and employment law are possibly on the horizon as well.

We encourage businesses to stay apprised of the forms of relief becoming available for them and their employees. Our lawyers remain available to advise on all workplace law matters experienced by you or your business as this situation continues to evolve. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance to you during this challenging time.