For most people around the globe, the coronavirus, or COVID-19, is beginning to affect nearly every aspect of our lives, including our ability to work. As of today, there are 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, a 40% increase over the number reported yesterday. The situation is rapidly changing, requiring businesses, individuals and the government to make adjustments quickly.
One of the primary concerns right now, aside from one’s physical well-being, is the ability to continue to earn an income. Whether a person is sick or has recently travelled, or been directly exposed to a person with the virus, their ability to work may be hampered. Some employers in Ontario have begun asking employees to work from home in order to limit social contact with others, but unfortunately not every job allows for this option. In some cases, employees who have tested positive or have been exposed to the virus may be required to quarantine themselves for two weeks. For those living paycheque-to-paycheque, which may be as many as half of all Ontarians, two weeks without pay can pose a serious threat to one’s ability to maintain payments on housing, utility bills and other necessities.
Canada Announces Adjusted EI Sick-Leave Benefits for Quarantine
Canada already had a program in place for sick leave benefits, allowing employees unable to work due to conditions such as cancer, surgery, or other long-lasting medical issues to collect insurance payments for up to fifteen weeks. However, a key feature of the program is that there is a one-week waiting period before payments begin. For those unable to work for a two-week quarantine period, this would mean they would only collect benefits for 50% of the time away from their jobs. Given the urgency of this new health crisis, the government has waived this waiting period, allowing employees to collect for the full 14-days of a quarantine period. This action was also taken during the SARS crisis in 2003/2004.
Specifics Relating to Eligibility
EI benefits for COVID-19 quarantine are available to any Canadian who pays EI premiums as part of their job and worked at least 600 hours in the year preceding their EI claim and has been asked to self-quarantine or self-isolate due to the recommendations of public health officials. Self-employed people are also able to register for EI benefits, however, they are unable to make a claim for benefits until they have been registered for at least 12 months. This means that any self-employed person who is not already registered with the program will be unable to make use of it during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Proving a Claim with Documentation
Generally, a claim for EI benefits relating to medical issues requires documentation from a medical professional establishing the basis for the claim. However, given the concerns around limiting social contact and overextending already taxed medical facilities, the government has waived this requirement.
If a person is asked to self-quarantine due to exposure and later develops symptoms, requiring them to remain in quarantine for longer than two weeks, they may request an extension of benefits. However, they will be required to provide documentation from a medical professional confirming their diagnosis.
Amount of Coverage & Alternative Options
The EI program pays 55% of an employee’s weekly salary up to $573 per week. There are currently no other options in place for those who don’t qualify for EI benefits, however the government is said to be exploring other measures to assist workers who may face quarantine, a temporary closure of their workplace or other roadblocks to working during the current epidemic. This situation is rapidly changing and as a result, so will the obligations and responsibilities on Canada’s employers and employees. We will continue to monitor the employment-related aspects of this crisis as they affect Ontario businesses and employees as the situation develops.
If you are an employer looking to review or establish policies in response to COVID-19, or an employee with questions regarding your employer’s obligations during this ever-evolving health crisis, contact GLG LLP in downtown Toronto. The firm’s business and employment litigation lawyers provide efficient and skilled trial advocacy for a range of employment litigation matters. Call the firm at 416-272-7557 or contact them online to schedule a confidential consultation.