FAQ: COVID-19 in the Workplace
1. What does an employer do if an offer has been made and the start date for the new hire is during an office shut down or remote work arrangements are in place?
Contact the employee and explain the situation. Due to these circumstances you will be deferring the start date or revoking the offer.
2. What does an employer do around hiring and sending out offers when they are unsure of how long current business continuity plans are in place (i.e. all staff are working remotely)?
In these situations, you may want to consider a hiring freeze. Alternatively, when you find the right candidate, make an offer with a start date that is to be determined.
3. What does an employer do with new employees that are not trained and the office is working remotely?
If possible, train remotely. There are many platforms available on which you can video meet remotely, share screens and/or instant message. If this is not an option, you can delay the start date (if they haven’t started) or consider temporary layoff.
4. What if my employee wants to work from home, but I do not want to set a precedent for other employees?
Assess on a case-by-case basis and communicate to your employees that there are many factors involved in the way that you make that decision. For example, if an employee wants to work from home to care for a child, that should be accommodated.
5. If an employee contracts COVID-19 at work, is the employee entitled to WSIB benefits (if covered)?
Yes, they may be entitled, and the employer must fill out all relevant WSIB documentation.
6. What would a quarantine protocol look like in a situation where one of our staff is diagnosed with COVID-19 and has worked in close proximity with other staff in our workplace?
It is very important to be proactive and continuously communicate with your staff about their requirement to notify you if they become aware of their exposure to the virus. Ask your employees to inform you without coming in to work if they have been exposed through travel, through household members, or if they are exhibiting symptoms.
In a situation where an employee realizes their exposure following close contact with other employees, we recommend that you assess the person’s exposure to others and it may be the case that the whole company is quarantined and certain operations are shut down for a period of 2 weeks or more to ensure the continuous health and safety of your staff.
7. Does an employee qualify for EI if we, as an employer, told them to stay home without pay for 14 days because they recently travelled?
Yes, they would qualify for EI. The waiting period has been waived for COVID-19 related quarantine cases so the employee would qualify for compensation from EI for the entire amount.
8. If an employee is infected with the virus or has flu like symptoms and begins working from home, are we required to pay the employee for their time off if it exceeds their personal/sick day allowance?
There is no legal requirement to pay employees during the quarantine period – this period could be considered unpaid time off. Depending on policies, employees may have the option to use their personal time off, sick or vacation time. Your organization may have a short-term disability plan.
If your organization is set up to work remotely, you can consider the employee working from home during the quarantine period. In the event that the quarantine period is considered unpaid time-off, your employees may qualify for Employment Insurance.
9. We had an employee return from a cruise. How do we determine if s/he is required to be isolated or not?
As recommended by Public Health, all returning travelers should self-quarantine for a period of 14 days.
10. Should employers ask for medical clearance for individuals that have self-isolated due to travel or risk of being exposed?
We would recommend getting medical clearance to ensure the health and safety of your employees.
11. My employees are expressing concern because they constantly are dealing with clients and the public, what should I do?
For clients, keep lines of communication open. Ask your clients for information on what the policies and procedures they have in place to mitigate their risk and request that they disclose any possible exposure. Limit public interaction as reasonably possible (e.g. use online video chat platforms, conference calls, and instant messaging).
In terms of the public, provide your employees with personal protective equipment including masks, gloves, etc. Provide plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes for employee use. Practice social distancing as much as possible (for example, limit the number of customers that can enter a store at one time). Post signs at the door asking customers who have been exposed to not enter the store. Finally, stay calm and up to date – relay the facts and new information to your employees as much as possible.
12. Hourly employees are asking if they can use their entire year vacation time now instead of being laid off even though they have not accrued this vacation. What are my options?
If an employer decides to allow this for employees, then they are certainly able to. However, hourly employees earn vacation pay on the hours they work, so if they will not be working longer than their vacation entitlement, the employee may end up overpaying in vacation pay.
If an employer chooses to proceed with this action, we would suggest getting a written agreement in place with the employee that stipulates if employees do exit the Company prior to earning all the vacation they have used, the Company reserves the right to deduct these monies from their wages.
13. Do current mass layoff guidelines apply or will they be waived during this time?
There are no mass layoff guidelines for temporary layoffs. These guidelines exist for permanent layoffs.
14. Do employers need to pay severance and vacation when laying off?
In a temporary lay-off situation, you are not required to pay severance and vacation pay prior to the lay-off. You will however need to consider a severance and vacation payout in the event that you decide that you are not recalling the employee(s).
15. What happens with our group benefits program during temporary layoffs if it’s a 50/50 split program? Is the company required to pay 100% of the program cost to keep it going?
You are not obligated to pay 100% of the benefits.
a) If you decide to continue benefits during a layoff, you should keep the same arrangement you had prior to the layoff. For example, if there is a 50/50 split, that arrangement should continue. There no requirement for you to cover 100% of benefits to extend the layoff period beyond 13 weeks. Given that you are offering benefits, even at a 50/50 split, you would qualify to extend the layoff period for up to 35 weeks. Please ensure the affected employees provide you with postdated cheques for up to 8 months (which covers 35 weeks).
b) You have the option to change your current benefits arrangement, as long as the employee has agreed to the changes and it is in writing, signed by you (the employer) and employee.
c) In the event that you are offering benefits to employees prior to a layoff, you DO NOT have to continue benefits during the layoff period although you should consider allowing the affected employees to use their benefits until the end of the month of layoff. In this scenario, since you are cutting off benefits, you will not qualify to extend the layoff period past 13 weeks.
16. What Code do I use on my ROE?
For temporary layoffs, use Code A – “Shortage of Work.” For individuals that have been diagnosed or are in quarantine, use Code D – “Illness or injury.” For parents staying home from work to care for their children, use Code N – “Leave of absence.”
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17. How do you quantify a Code N on a Record of Employment? Does the employee need to have a letter that they need to care for someone or could they simply state that their kids are home from school and they need to look after them?
As the situation currently stands, there is no requirement that employees need documentation in order to take time off to care for their kids. In this case on the ROE, please use code N.