How employers have had to deal with workforce issues because of COVID-19 seems to shift regularly. Both the federal and provincial governments had implemented programs and policies to help both employers and employees during this challenging time. Another shift is coming, however, and it will be important for all employers who had made changes to their workforce because of COVID-19. These changes could include lay-offs, reducing hours or wages, and terminations.
To address some of the challenges that employers faced with shifting workforce requirements, the Ontario government implemented some temporary changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000, through the regulation O.Reg.228/20: Infectious Disease Emergency Leave. This regulation, which was filed on May 29, 2020, provided employees with job-protected leave and also provided employers with some relief in what otherwise could have triggered the requirement to pay notice, severance or deal with constructive dismissal claims.
Because the Ontario government has announced that the declaration of emergency ends on July 24, 2020, this new temporary regulation (unless extended) will end effective September 4, 2020, and with it the protections it held for employers.
Employers who continue to have employees on reduced hours or wages because of COVID-19 will need to be aware that after September 4, 2020, they could be subject to claims from employees for constructive dismissal.
Currently, the federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy is in place until August 29, 2020. The federal work-sharing program has been in place for years, however, it has been more actively utilized, and modifications were made, because of COVID-19.
During the next few weeks, employers should revisit and assess their current workplace structures in light of this upcoming change.
If you have any questions about these changes, please don’t hesitate to speak to a member of our team.