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Help is on the Way: New Benefits for Workers Impacted by COVID-19 

by Katy Allen, Jocelyn McAdam

Published: April, 2020

Submission: April, 2020

 



The B.C. and federal government have announced new benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19.

B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers


The B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers will provide a one-time $1,000 payment to people who lost income because of COVID-19. B.C. residents who receive Employment Insurance (“EI”) or the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”, described below) will be eligible. While few details have been released, applications open soon and the payment will be made in May.


Canada Emergency Response Benefit


As part of its COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the federal government has announced a variety of supports to help workers facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, including the CERB. The CERB replaces the previously announced Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit. The government has said CERB will provide $2,000 a month for up to 16 weeks (or a maximum of $8,000) for workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CERB would be paid every four weeks and be available from March 15, 2020 until October 3, 2020, and workers will need to re-apply for the CERB every four weeks.


Who is covered?


Eligibility for the CERB is broadly defined. It applies to workers residing in Canada who are at least 15 years old, who have ceased working for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days within the four-week period during which they applied for the benefits. The CERB is a taxable benefit, and the amount workers receive will need to be reported as income for the 2020 tax year. To qualify, workers must have had $5,000 in employment income, self-employment income, or maternity or parental leave benefits for 2019 or in the 12-month period preceding the application. If workers leave their employment voluntarily, they will not be eligible for the CERB.


“Reasons related to COVID-19” is not defined in the legislation, but the federal news release provides that it would include:


  • workers who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19;
  • working parents who must stay home without pay because of school and daycare closures; and
  • workers who are still employed, but are not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation due to COVID-19.

The federal government recently expanded eligibility to include:


  • those earning up to $1,000 a month in either employment or self-employment income;
  • seasonal workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to undertake their regular seasonal work because of COVID-19; and
  • workers who have recently exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to find a job because of COVID-19.

It is currently unclear how the CERB applies to workers who have not stopped working but are working reduced hours due to COVID-19. While Prime Minister Trudeau had earlier announced that the federal government intended to extend eligibility to those working reduced hours, the current eligibility requirements remain that an employee must have “ceased working” due to COVID-19.


What about Employment Insurance?


Workers who are already receiving EI regular and sickness benefits as of today would continue to receive their benefits and should not apply to the CERB. 


Anyone who became eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits on March 15, 2020 or later will have their EI claim automatically processed through the CERB. Those who became eligible for EI prior to March 15, 2020, will have their claim processed under the existing EI system and will not receive the CERB. Those who are eligible for EI benefits would still be able to access their normal EI benefits, if still unemployed, after the end of the 16-week period covered by the CERB. For other EI benefits, including maternity, parental, caregiving, fishing, and work-sharing, individuals should continue to apply as they normally would.


The government was unprepared for the deluge of Employment Insurance (EI) applications. As a result, the CERB is intended to be more accessible and streamlined than EI. For some employees, the CERB provides a lesser benefit than EI. The CERB provides a flat $2000 per month, while EI is a maximum of 55% of an employee’s regular earnings up to a maximum salary of $54,200.  


Please reach out to a member of the Labour and Employment Group for the latest advice for your business and employees. 


NOTE: Due to the rapidly changing legal landscape with respect to COVID-19 and our government’s response to the pandemic, please understand that any blog posts written in the past may not reflect the current applicable obligations, rights and benefits of employers and employees.


 



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