March 21, 2020

RE: Covid-19 HR Employment Issues in Manitoba

We are all experiencing a time that is unlike any other; possibly the only thing we know for sure is that we are all in it together. Our relationship with you, both personally and professionally, is important to us and we want you to know that through this challenging, stressful and uncertain time, we will do everything we can to support you however we can. This may include financial recommendations, human resource direction or general operational strategies. No one has all of the answers but we certainly are making all best efforts to provide you with practical and comprehensive direction to help you make well-informed decisions.

Below you will find information respecting how to address urgent issues including employee layoffs, Covid-19 policies and general coping strategies.

Within the next 48 hours, we will provide you with a further update respecting critical financial recommendations. You will hear from one of our firm’s Partners by phone, to discuss any specific concerns you may have. However, please do not wait to for our call if your matter is urgent. Any of our Partners can be reached at the numbers below:

• Harry Black, Managing Partner 204 230-9078

• Susan Black, Director of HR 204 996-8716

• Cari Franco, Director of Public Practice 204 999-3425

• Jordan Blahnik, Director of Accounting 204 990-6400

• Renee Rocan, Director of Audit & Assurance 204 297-8244

Employment/HR Matters

We all must do our part to contain COVID-19 and protect public health in Manitoba. All businesses must take the required actions that best suit their individual businesses which may include a complete shutdown, to remote work arrangements to continuing to enter the workspace with social distancing protocols in place.

The following FAQ are provided to help you with employment-related information:

Q: Do we need to institute a “Pandemic Policy” or a Pandemic Response Plan?

A: While the Occupational Health & Safety Act of Manitoba does not mandate these, it is recommended that all businesses have one in place, outlining:

  • How the organization is addressing pandemic-related employee absences;
  • Procedures for dealing with refusals of working in unsafe working conditions;
  • General guidelines for everyday precautions aimed to protect against viral infection;
  • General guidelines with respect to harassment and workplace discrimination should an employee contract the virus;
  • Protocol for reporting relevant travel or symptoms;
  • How the organization will communicate with its employees if remote work has been implemented;
  • What to do if the employee or the employee’s family is exhibiting symptoms of the virus

Q: Can we require that an employee report relevant symptoms of COVID-19 to us?

A: Yes, this is a reasonable precaution and requirement. You should also enforce that they self-quarantine and not come to work.

As employees’ health matters are always private and confidential, you can advise other staff that “an Employee” is ill and/or has tested positive for Covid-19 but do not disclose their name to maintain confidentiality. Employees may ask if they should now self-quarantine if they work closely with the individual. Your response should consider if they worked in the same area, if social distancing was in place and specific circumstances surrounding the level of contact that employee had.

Q: I need my business to keep functioning but employees are scared to come to work.

A: Fear is understandable right now, no one knows where this is going or when it will end. Exercise patience with your employees and show empathy and understanding. How we act as business leaders’ right now is critical to your company’s success and the likelihood your employees will continue working with you. It’s the tough times that really speak to character! As employers, we all have a legal obligation to provide safe places for our employees to work. This is more critical now than ever.

Consider solutions that may allow your employees to continue to work including:

  • Remote work. If employees don’t have laptops, allow them to take desktop computers home. If they don’t have internet services, offer to provide/cover these costs.
  • Alternate hours. If employees cannot work remotely, consider amending/extending shifts where employees can work evenings, overnights and weekends to avoid being in contact with others. This may work well for many employees who now have kids at home and cannot work standard daily working hours but who still need to work.
  • Implement strict internal measures such as bleaching & sanitizing workspaces, restricting access to external groups, taking temperatures of each employee before they enter the building to verify they do not have the initial symptoms of Covid-19.
  • If your business services the public such as a restaurant, retail store or storefront, consider ways you could provide online services with delivery options.

Q: My business is struggling and the usual solutions of remote work will not work for my business. I may have to close my doors temporarily. Are there any options I should know about?

A: The Government of Canada wants to support you! To help prevent lay-offs, they are proposing to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for 3 months. This will be equal to 10% of remuneration paid for that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. This is new information and details are soon to follow from the Government of Canada. For detailed information, check out this recent article published by the Government of Canada:

Q: Can my employees seek to claim Employment Insurance from the Government of Canada?

A: Yes. Canada is ready to support Canadians affected by COVID-19 with the following support actions:

  • The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits has been waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
  • A new, dedicated toll-free number to support inquiries related to this waiting period: 1-833- 381-2725 (toll free), Teletypewriter (TTY): 1-800-529-3742. Be aware though that FHB repeatedly tried connecting to these numbers and due to high call volume, was not able to speak to an individual.
  • EI applications are to be done online and can be accessed through this link:
  • Priority EI application processing for those under quarantine.
  • Those claiming EI due to quarantine do not have to provide a medical certificate.
  • Those who cannot complete an EI claim due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to the period of delay.

Q. If an Employee isn’t Sick or Requires Quarantine, can they still obtain EI benefits?

A: It is our understanding that Employees who have been laid off due to Covid-19 who are neither sick or quarantined will be eligible to receive EI benefits however, due to high call volumes at Service Canada, we were unable to confirm this. We recommend that laid-off employees apply for EI benefits and that employers indicate the reason code on the ROE to be “shortage of work” as the reason.

Q: If an employee contracts this illness, what do we do? Do we have a right to terminate employment?

A: If you believe an employee has Covid-19 and may have infected your workspace and/or colleagues, we recommend the following:

  • Send them home and tell them to take their temperature; monitor symptoms and follow CDC/medical professional direction;
  • Ask them to advise you of their health and/or test results ongoing;
  • Consider all other potentially exposed employees. Was social distancing in place? Where was the employee working and who did they have close contact with? Advise other employees that an employee may have the virus and is now quarantined. To be completely safe, advise that ALL exposed employees must also self quarantine.
  • Start cross-training employees NOW. Given how contagious this virus is, entire departments can be affected. Have a contingency plan in place for positions that are critical for your business to function.

You cannot terminate an employee in this case, without the risk of violating both the Human Rights Code. Ask your employee to self-quarantine and take all necessary precautions that are now widely published. Do not use this time as a reason to terminate poor performing employees.

Q: How can I support the mental health of my employees working from home?

A: Your leadership at this time has never been more important. With panic and fear everywhere, people need to look to someone for strength, calmness and direction. Consider the following:

  • Keep communication open with all employees by implementing a daily “check in” call or virtual meeting to stay connected and to keep business functioning as normally as possible.
  • Show your concern for their wellbeing and their family’s wellbeing, through giving genuine support and reassurance. Try to be patient and take time to listen without judgement or dismissiveness. Keep in mind that some employees may have family or personal health situations that cause increased anxiety at this time.
  • Be cautious of the promises you make respecting long term wages & benefits and ongoing job security unless you can make them definitively. There is no knowing how long this will last. If you don’t have all the answers, it’s ok.
  • Ask employees to be part of the solution – can we all come up with creative ways to keep business going? Employees may have creative ways to implement change.
  • Encourage employees to limit news intake; we all want to be up to date, but we need down time. This will allow them mental space for other, more positive things.
  • Get some exercise; it has long been shown to have a beneficial effect on mental health and is no different now.
  • Get some fresh air; being outdoors has many health benefits, but increasingly it has been used to help manage anxiety and mood disorders.
  • Ration your worry time; be wary of falling into repetitive habits such as incessant handwashing and surface-cleaning. Remind yourself that most people who contract COVID-19 will only have mild symptoms and will make a full recovery.

Q: What is the Government doing to help small businesses and employees?

A: Things are changing rapidly with new announcements coming out by the hour. So far, this is what has been proposed:

  • Money for businesses to allow them to keep people on the payroll even when they are at home.
  • New access to credit for businesses. Last week, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a $10 billion credit facility to lend money to businesses under stress due to the pandemic.
  • Help with mortgage payments.
  • Enhanced Canada Child benefits, GST credits for low-income Canadians. The proposed emergency aid plan includes:
  • A temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payments, delivering about $2 billion in extra support.
  • A new Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 biweekly, up to 15 weeks, to provide income support to workers, including the self-employed, who have to stay home and don’t qualify for paid sick leave or employment insurance. The measure could disburse up to $10 billion.
  • A new Emergency Support Benefit to provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
  • A six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments. • Doubling the homeless care program.
  • Extending the tax filing deadline to June 1.
  • Allowing taxpayers to defer until after Aug. 31 tax payments that are due after today and before September.
  • $305 million for a new Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities.

And the banks are also stepping up; more on this soon from FHB, however this excerpt from CBC news may be helpful:

“Effective immediately, Bank of Montreal, CIBC, National Bank of Canada, RBC Royal Bank, Scotiabank and TD Bank have made a commitment to work with personal and small business banking customers on a case-by-case basis to provide flexible solutions to help them manage through challenges such as pay disruption due to COVID-19; childcare disruption due to school closures; or those facing illness from COVID-19,” the statement reads.

“This support will include up to a six-month payment deferral for mortgages, and the opportunity for relief on other credit products.” 6 Some other lenders, like RMG Mortgages, have also sent their clients emails about “Hold-a-Payment or Skip-a-Payment options.”

Q: How long can my business expect to be without physical employees? How far ahead should I be planning?

A: While it’s unclear how long this will last, it is essential for your business to institute a business continuity plan in case Manitoba becomes much more seriously affected by COVID-19. The plan should include measures to keep the business running and would include identifying key groups or employees that are necessary to keep the business operating every day. You may then consider whether some of these key functions can be executed by employees elsewhere, or by a team in another geographic location. By engaging in contingency planning and preparation for the impact of worsening conditions, employers can at least mitigate the consequences of worst case scenarios.

Communicate openly, honestly, and frequently, no matter what you do. We are here to support your organization. Connect with us today by phone or email.


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