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THE WEEK IN REVIEW #11: KEY COVID-19 DEVELOPMENTS FOR ONTARIO EMPLOYERS

June 8, 2020

This is the eleventh bulletin in a weekly series that provides a recap of important COVID-19 developments and their impact on employers as they navigate these challenging times.

This recap covers the week of June 1, 2020 and is current as of June 8, 2020.

During the week of June 1, 2020, the Ontario government extended Ontario’s Declaration of Emergency until June 30 and extended all Emergency Orders until June 19. Premier Doug Ford also announced a new Energy Assistance Plan for small businesses, and indicated that details on the next stage of Ontario’s reopening would be shared the week of June 8. Meanwhile, the federal government announced additional funding for provinces and territories to support COVID-19 recovery, and opened the Canada Revenue Agency’s Leads Program for reports of fraudulent claims for emergency government benefits and subsidies.

These key developments are set out below.

 Canada Revenue Agency Opened Leads Program for Reports of Fraudulent CERB, CESB and CEWS Claims

On June 1, 2020, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) opened its existing Leads Program hotline to reports of fraudulent claims for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”), the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (“CESB”) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (“CEWS”). The CRA also indicated that it is conducting some eligibility verifications for recipients, both before and after payment of these benefits to employees and employers.

This represents a shift from the government’s earlier approach, which prioritized getting subsidy and benefit payments out to applicants quickly while leaving scrutinizing eligibility for the next tax season.

This shift has implications for employers that have received the CEWS but may not have met all the eligibility criteria, as they risk losing access to this benefit going forward and may have to repay amounts they have already received through the subsidy. Fraudulent claims could also lead to penalties for recipients, such as fines. For more details on the Leads Program, please see our recent article.

COVID-19 Energy Assistance Plan for Small Business

On June 1, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced $8 million in support for a new COVID-19 Energy Assistance Plan for Small Business (“CEAP-SB”), to support small businesses struggling with bill payments as a result of the pandemic. The government also recently announced the continued suspension of time-of-use electricity rates. Starting on June 1, 2020, customers will be billed based on a new fixed COVID-19 Recovery Rate of 12.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

 Premier Doug Ford Extended Ontario’s State of Emergency Until June 30 and Extended All Emergency Orders until June 19

On June 2, 2020, the Ontario government extended the provincial Declaration of Emergency by four weeks, until June 30. Notably, Ontario has only extended its state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic by two weeks at a time before this extension.

On June 6, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced the extension of all emergency orders currently in force until June 19. The Premier also announced that the suspension of limitation periods and time periods for legal proceedings will be extended until September 11, 2020, to prevent legal consequences for parties if the time requirements of their cases are not met while the order in in effect.

Details on Next Stage of Reopening to be Shared the Week of June 8

On June 5, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced that more details on Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening will be shared during the week of June 8. The Premier emphasized that Stage 2 will not begin immediately, and that businesses will be given notice so they have time to prepare for reopening.

A phased plan for reopening childcare services safely will also be laid out during the week of June 8. This is a positive sign for employers whose employees have childcare obligations that have been impacting their ability to work, or that the employers were anticipating would impact the employees’ ability to return to work upon reopening.

Federal Government Announced Additional Funding Support for COVID-19 Recovery

On June 5, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will be contributing $14 billion for a Safe Restart Agreement to aid the provinces and territories in safely reopening over the next six to eight months. This contribution is intended to support funding for personal protective equipment, childcare, assistance to seniors, and municipal services, among other things.

Of particular note to employers, the Prime Minister indicated that these funds are also intended to allow the provinces to offer “up to” ten paid sick days for employees “who don’t have benefits”. As regular readers of this Resource Centre will recall from our earlier posts, the Prime Minister had previously indicated that the federal government was working with the provincial governments to implement ten paid sick days for workers across Canada, but few details had been previously announced. This most recent announcement suggests that the proposed ten paid sick days would be entirely managed by the provinces, would not be available to all workers (but would instead be limited to those without benefits), and may be fewer than ten days in some provinces and/or for some workers. Employers should stay tuned for further information about this proposal in the coming weeks.

The Prime Minister also announced a new, one-time payment of up to $600 for Canadians with disabilities, to help them address increased costs and challenges related to COVID-19. For more details on these new funding announcements, please see our recent article.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues. This information is not intended as legal advice.

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