Background

Just before the end of 2021, the Canadian Government passed Bill C-2, An Act to provide further support in response to COVID-19. Amongst other things, the Bill introduced the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit Act, amended eligibility requirements under the Canada Recovery Benefits Act, and amended the Canada Labour Code to update leaves of absence related to COVID-19.

Key Features of Bill C-2

The enactment of the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit Act (the “CWLBA”)

The CWLBA provides monetary relief for workers that have been affected by a COVID-19 lockdown. The CWLBA provides workers that have been subject to a declared lockdown for at least 14 days with a lockdown benefit of $300 a week. To be eligible, workers must not have quit their employment or voluntarily stopped working, unless it was reasonable to do so. Also, workers must not have failed to return to work upon an employer’s request, failed to resume self-employment when reasonable to do so, or declined a reasonable offer to work. If a worker refused to comply with a COVID-19 vaccination requirement and, as a result, lost their employment, were unable to perform self-employment work, or had a reduction in income, the worker is not eligible for the benefit. Workers may apply for the benefit between October 24, 2021 and May 7, 2022.

Amendments to the Canada Recovery Benefits Act (the “CRBA”)

The CRBA is amended to extend the eligibility of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to May 7, 2022. Additionally, the maximum number of weeks that the sickness benefit is payable to a person is extended from two to six weeks, unless a higher number is fixed by regulation.

The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit is also extended to May 7, 2022. The maximum number of weeks that the caregiving benefit is payable to a person and persons residing in the same household is extended from 42 to 44 weeks, unless a higher number is fixed by regulation.

Employees can receive benefits from either the CRBA or the CWLBA, but not both.

Amendments to the Canada Labour Code (the “CLC”)

The CLC is amended by reintroducing a leave of absence for reasons related to COVID-19. Employees can take a leave of absence for up to 6 weeks if they are unable to work because (i) they have contracted or might have contracted COVID-19; (ii) they have underlying conditions, are undergoing treatments, or have contracted other sicknesses that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19; or (iii) they have self-isolated due to COVID-19.

An employee is eligible for a leave of up to 44 weeks if they cannot work because they must care for either a child under 12 years of age or a family member who requires supervised care, for reasons related to COVID-19.

The leaves of absence may be taken in multiple periods or together, but employers may require that each period is not less than one day. Employees intending to take this leave are required as soon as possible to give their employer written notice of why they are taking the leave and the length they intend to take. Employers are permitted to request that employees provide a written declaration supporting the reasons for taking the leave of absence.

Takeaways

While employees should take note of the new lockdown benefit and the amended recovery benefit, federally-regulated employers should be aware of the amendments to the CLC and ensure their current policies and practices are updated to address the new leaves of absence. Employers should note that on request, employees on the COVID-19 leave are entitled to be informed of every employment, promotion, or training opportunity the employee qualifies for and that arises during their leave of absence. Importantly, employers are prohibited from dismissing, suspending, laying off, demoting or disciplining an employee because the employee intends to take or has taken a leave of absence under this section. When making decisions relating to promoting or training the employee, employers are prohibited from taking the leave or intention to take the leave into account in their decision-making. However, if employees return from leave and are unable to perform the work they previously performed before their absence, employers are able to assign employees to a different position, with different terms and conditions of employment.

Measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 are continuously evolving. We will continue to monitor changes and provide updates accordingly.