Common challenges

COVID-19 Question Series: All About Working From Home, Work Sharing, and Those Feeling Left Behind

April 07, 2020

We received many questions during our recent webinar on COVID-19. In case you missed it, you’ll find a link to the recording at the bottom of this article. In a difficult time like this, we wanted to make sure the answers to these challenging questions were available, so we’ve created a multi-part question series on our blog to help ensure employers and HR professionals have access to the information they need. We will continue to post these COVID-19 Question Series articles, so keep your eye on our blog and subscribe for updates.

In this article, we address questions we’ve received about working from home and potential job sharing options.

Do closures of all non-essential businesses (like the closure in Ontario) affect businesses where employees can work from home?

No, the closure of all non-essential businesses means that the government does not want workers going to a facility or workplace. Businesses deemed non-essential that can have employees work from home are encouraged to continue operations.

 

We have relocated all of our staff to working from home, with the exception of our administrative support staff. We are deemed an essential service, but our offices remain closed to the public. Our support staff are now working alone in their respective offices. Can they refuse to work alone? Are there any concerns we should consider?

Working alone can pose an increased risk to health and safety, as the employee cannot readily seek help if they require it. If the business is having employees work alone, we recommend implementing a policy and developing a communication strategy so that employees have mechanisms for seeking and getting help, if needed.

If you have staff refusing to work because of safety, have a conversation to determine the concern and discuss options for mitigating those concerns.

Some strategies may be:

  • If you have staff working remotely, have a manager set up an open Skype link (or equivalent) so that they are available by webcam during the day.
  • Regular check-ins and a process for responding if a regular check-in is missed.
  • Have one manager be available and work from the office, so that administrative staff have an available support.

 

What is Work-Sharing?

Work-Sharing (WS) is an adjustment program designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity beyond the control of the employer. The measure provides income support to employees eligible for Employment Insurance benefits who work a temporarily reduced workweek while their employer recovers.

WS is a three-party agreement involving employers, employees, and Service Canada. Employees on a WS agreement must agree to a reduced schedule of work and to share the available work over a specified period of time.

The government of Canada has put in place temporary special WS measures for employers affected by the downturn in business due to COVID-19.

These measures extend the duration of WS agreements by an additional 38 weeks, for a total of 76 weeks. The mandatory waiting period has also been waived so that employers with a recently expired agreement may immediately apply for a new agreement without waiting between applications.

Temporary special measures are effective March 15, 2020, to March 14, 2021.

You are eligible to apply if you are experiencing a downturn in business activity related to the global outbreak of COVID-19, and have:

  • WS agreements signed between March 15, 2020, and March 13, 2021;
  • WS agreements that began or ended between March 15, 2020, and March 14, 2021; or
  • WS agreements that ended between June 23, 2019, and March 14, 2020, and are in their mandatory cooling-off period.

 

Who can apply for Work-Sharing?

Employers and employees may apply to participate in Work-Sharing (WS). Employers may apply for WS if they meet certain criteria.

To be eligible for a WS agreement, your business must:

  • Be experiencing a recent decline in business activity of at least 10%;
  • Be experiencing a recent decline in business activity directly or indirectly related to the effects of COVID-19 that is beyond your control and not a cyclical or recurring slowdown;
  • Demonstrate that the shortage of work is temporary, beyond your control, and not a cyclical or recurring slowdown;
  • Be a year-round business in Canada for at least two years;
  • Be a private business, a publicly held company, or a not-for-profit organization;
  • Have at least two employees in the WS unit; and
  • Be willing to implement a recovery plan to support the ongoing operations and viability of the business.

Your business is not eligible for WS if it is experiencing a reduction in business activity due to:

  • A labour dispute;
  • A seasonal shortage of work;
  • A pre-existing or recurring production slowdown; or
  • The decrease in business activity is due to a recent increase in the size of the workforce.

To be eligible for WS, your employees must:

  • Be year-round, permanent, full-time or part-time employees needed to carry out the day-to-day functions of the business (your “core staff”);
  • Be eligible to receive EI benefits; and
  • Agree to reduce their normal working hours by the same percentage and to share the available work.

Employees who are not eligible include:

  • Seasonal employees and students hired for the summer or a co-op term;
  • Employees hired on a casual or on-call basis, or through a temporary help agency;
  • Employees who are needed to help generate work or who are essential to the recovery of the business (for example, senior management, executive-level marketing or sales agents, outside sales representatives, technical employees engaged in product development, etc.); and
  • Employees who hold more than 40% of the voting shares in the business.

If your business is considering applying for WS, you must prepare and submit the following documents:

  • EMP 5100: Application for a Work-Sharing Agreement;
  • EMP 5101 – Attachment A: Work-Sharing Unit Attachment that is signed by each employee (for non-union workplaces) or by a union representative;
  • EMP 5105 – Attachment B: Recovery Plan for special measures; and
  • Sales or production figures for the last two years.

 

To learn more, click the government of Canada link below:
https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/work-sharing/guide-applicant.html#hb3

 

If I offer job-sharing to have staff alternate weeks, should I provide affected staff with a Record of Employment (ROE) so they can receive Employment Insurance benefits for the loss of wages?

If you implement job-sharing for staff, you must issue an ROE for an employee who will have a decrease of 40% or more from their regular pre-COVID-19 earnings. This ROE will enable Service Canada to determine whether the employee qualifies for any payments.

You may also want to consider applying for Work-Sharing, as this program would provide employees with an EI payment for any days that they are not working.

Get the webinar replay and more information

Click here to download the webinar replay and get answers to the top
questions about the coronavirus.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, keep checking back here.

We will continually update our blog as frequently as possible during this time to provide you with the resources and answers you need. You can also read the previous article in our COVID-19 Question Series: COVID-19 Question Series: More Answers About What You May Owe Employees

 

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