Carscallen Blog

COVID-19 Employment Law Considerations: Alberta statutory leave and federal EI sickness benefits

Posted by Carscallen LLP on Mar 20, 2020 2:09:18 PM

Written by Catherine A. Crang and Hema Ahuja

One serious implication of the recent outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV, or “COVID-19”) for both employees and employers across Alberta and Canada is that many people are and will be unable to work due to either being under self-isolation and quarantine, having contracted COVID-19, or because they are caring for a family member who has contracted the virus. These workers will experience a loss of employment income during their recovery period, for caregiving, or during their self-isolation/quarantine period.

As this is an ongoing situation of a global nature, the information provided herein is current as of the publishing date of this blog.

Statutory leave for full and part time employees in Alberta affected by COVID-19

On March 13, 2020, the Alberta government announced it would be enacting changes to the Employment Standards Code (Alberta)[1] (the “Code”) to provide for a form of “COVID-19 Leave” in Alberta, which is meant to cover the recommended self-isolation period. The details of this COVID-19 Leave that were announced were:

  • 14 days of paid, job-protected leave for:
    • employees who are required to self-isolate, or
    • employees who are caring for a child or dependent adult who is required to self-isolate.

Despite the initial announcement that the leave would be a paid leave and relate to employee self-isolation or that of a child or dependent adult, on March 17, 2020, the Alberta government issued an order in council (the "COVID-19 Leave Regulation") to amend the Employment Standards Regulations[2], which is retroactive to March 5, 2020, to provide 14 consecutive days of unpaid job-protected leave to employees if the employee is under quarantine

“Quarantine” has been defined in the COVID-19 Leave Regulation to include any self-isolation and self-quarantine as result of COVID-19, as may be recommended or directed by the Chief Medical Officer.

Contrary to current requirements under the Code for employee entitlement to other forms of illness job-protected leave, under the COVID-19 Leave Regulation:

  • Employees will not be required to provide a doctor’s note to obtain COVID-19 Leave;
  • Employees will not be required to satisfy the 90 day waiting period of having worked with their employer prior to taking COVID-19 Leave; and
  • Employees will not be required to give notice of their intended return to work date.

The length of the COVID-19 Leave may be extended from 14 days if the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Alberta changes.

Additionally, we note that this COVID-19 Leave does not apply to self-employed individuals or contractors.

COVID-19 Leave will not affect an employee’s entitlement to unpaid, job-protected, long-term illness and injury leave (up to 16 weeks), as such leave is provided for under section 53.97 of the Code.

As the COVID-19 situation is changing on a continuous basis, please continue to check here for COVID-19 updates from the Alberta government as details emerge.

Current Alberta Health Services guidelines for self-isolation and quarantine

As a reminder, in Alberta, the current published requirements for self-isolation and quarantine are in relation to (1) people exhibiting symptoms of the virus, (2) those who have returned to Alberta from traveling abroad, and (3) those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. At present, self-isolation and quarantine measures are required for:

  • Anyone who has symptoms: including cough, runny nose, fever or sore throat, must self-isolate for 14 days, and call either 811 (Health Link) or 911 and advise that they may have COVID-19.
  • Anyone returning to Alberta from travel on or after March 12: all travellers who returned to Alberta from outside Canada on or after March 12 are required to self-isolate immediately, for 14 days, and monitor for symptoms.
  • Anyone returning to Alberta from travel before March 12 from Italy, Iran, the Hubei Province of China, or the Grande Princess Cruise ship: all travellers who returned to Alberta from these destinations before March 12 are required to self-isolate, and must monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days after return.
  • Travellers who returned to Alberta from other destinations, before March 12: are encouraged to self-isolate, and monitor themselves for symptoms. 
  • Anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days: regardless of which country, the person is required to self-isolate and limit contact with others for 14 days.

More information for Albertans about COVID-19 can also be found here.

Statutory illness leave for employees under federal Employment Insurance (EI) benefits

Federal Employment Insurance (“EI”) sickness benefits may also be available to people who are unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine in relation to COVID-19. EI may provide up to 15 weeks of sickness benefits for eligible persons in relation to COVID-19, who are being instructed to apply for such benefits online only.

It is important that people who are under self-isolation/quarantine and those who have contracted the virus not go to a Service Canada office to apply for EI sickness benefits in person.

According to the EI website, the following rules will apply to EI sickness benefits for COVID-19 claimants:

  • The one-week waiting period will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim;
  • EI application processing will be prioritized when claimants are under quarantine;
  • Claimants will not be required to provide a medical certificate for a COVID-19 claim;
  • In the event of being unable to complete a claim due to illness or quarantine, claimants will be able to apply for their EI sickness benefits claim after their quarantine or illness period, and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay; and
  • There will be a new dedicated toll-free phone number specifically for COVID-19 enquiries related to waiving the waiting period for EI sickness benefits (note that claimants are being encouraged to apply online for EI sickness benefits before contacting the number).

 

Further information on federal EI sickness benefits in relation to COVID-19 can be found here

Disability leave and sick leave

For employees in Alberta who require more than the 14 days of provincial statutory leave available to them, they may also have paid sick leave days and/or short term disability leave available to use, through their employer’s policies or insurance benefits. However, as not all employees are provided with paid sick leave and/or short term disability insurance, we encourage individuals to check their benefits in order to confirm what benefits they have in the event of illness and injury. If you need legal advice regarding these types of benefits issues, please contact our team of employment lawyers for assistance with your benefit reviews.

Carscallen LLP’s Employment Law Expertise

We understand that the rapid emergence of COVID-19 means that many employers and employees are dealing with a myriad of legal issues. Please contact us if you have any questions with respect to your legal obligations in connection with COVID-19, or any other legal employment matters. Our lawyers routinely work remotely and will continue to do so during this time. We remain available to provide legal advice and guidance to clients for all issues that may arise during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Please visit our COVID-19 resources page for further updates.

Visit COVID-19 Page

*This update is intended for general information only on the subject matter and is not to be taken as legal advice.

[1] Employment Standards Code, RSA 2000, c E-9.

[2] Employment Standards Regulation, Alta Reg 14/1997.

Topics: Employment, Labour and Human Rights Law, Covid-19

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