Resources and support programs to help businesses avoid layoffs, and to provide support to employees unable to work due to COVID-19.
As businesses across Canada face up to the new realities of our COVID economy, several programs have been created to help avoid laying off employees, and to help individuals unable to work due to sickness/self-quarantine or because they lose their job.
On this page:
- Job-Protected Leave
- Considerations Around Layoffs
- Government Supports to Avoid Layoffs
- Making Temporary Layoffs
- FAQs for Employers
An employee can take unpaid, job-protected leave related to COVID-19 if they are unable to work for any of the following reasons:
- They have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse
- They are in quarantine or self-isolation and are acting in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control or guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada
- Their employer has directed them not to work due to concern about their exposure to others
- They need to provide care to their minor child or a dependent adult who is their child or former foster child for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare or similar facility closure
- They are outside of BC and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions
The COVID-19 leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in British Columbia. During this public health emergency, employees can take this job-protected leave for the reasons above as long as they need it, without putting their job at risk. Once it is no longer needed, this leave will be removed from the Employment Standards Act.
This leave is considered unpaid leave.
Considerations Around Layoffs
While the need to cut costs at many businesses is top of mind right now, there are measures to consider before laying any staff off. Here are some ideas:
Communicate openly with staff: Keep your team members fully up to date on the financial health and future plans for the business. Engage with them in brainstorming exercises to discover ideas for pivoting to service the new COVID economy. Your team members know the business better than anyone. Engage with them to find a collaborative approach forward.
Treat everyone equally: If measures such as a temporary wage cut will prevent jobs being lost, ensure you lead by example and extend that cut to everyone, including management. Sharing this pain highlights how you are all in this together. Communicate your plan for getting things back to normal so staff are reassured measures will only be in place as long as necessary.
Review all options: Just because a business hasn’t done something before, shouldn’t stop an action becoming an option. The businesses best positioned to thrive during COVID are nimble in their thinking and quick to pivot. Don’t be afraid to lean on the available supports announced by the Government of Canada, if applicable.
Pivoting to avoid layoffs: Many businesses across Canada are finding success in the COVID economy by pivoting and adapting to satisfy areas where demand is high. Whether that's restaurants moving to a delivery model, or breweries offering curbside delivery, lots of businesses are coping by switching operations to service clients online. Start by reading Small Business BC’s article on Managing and Pivoting in a Time of Crisis.
Government Supports to Avoid Layoffs
The Government of Canada has introduced several financial supports to help employers avoid layoffs from the impact of COVID-19, and to support laid-off workers. These include:
Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Program (CEWS) program helps employers retain and pay employees.
Expanded Work Sharing Program
Details of Work-Sharing Program temporary special measures to support employers and workers affected by COVID-19.
B.C. COVID-19 Temporary Pandemic Pay
Information about the Government of British Columbia's temporary pandemic pay program.
Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA)
A Government of Canada program to lower rent by 75 per cent for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19.
Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP)
Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) support to help enable access to capital for Canadian businesses.
Western Economic Diversification Canada Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF)
A $1 billion Government of Canada fund to help Canadian businesses mitigate the financial pressures brought on by COVID-19.
Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)
Interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to eligible businesses.
Making Temporary Layoffs
Layoffs have become an unwelcome fact of life due to COVID-19. And, while we encourage each employer to do everything in their power to avoid layoffs, we understand it can’t be avoided in some cases.
A temporary layoff is when an employee is laid off when they're given less work or no work, with the plan being to return the employee to a regular work schedule as soon as possible.
In response to COVID-19, the Government of B.C. extended the maximum length of a COVID-related temporary layoff to 24 weeks.
Apply for a Government of B.C. Variance Online
Employers and employees can apply together to the Employment Standards Branch for a variance to extend a temporary layoff. Applying for a variance can help prevent employees from being furloughed, and remove the need to pay severance in lieu of notice.
Employers and workers who need to extend temporary layoffs due to COVID-19 can more easily jointly apply for a variance online.
The new online application simplifies and streamlines the process for employers and workers to jointly apply for an extension by eliminating the need for hardcopy documents and signatures, while ensuring the integrity of the branch’s decision-making process.
Temporary Layoffs for Federally-Regulated Industries
The Government of Canada extended the time periods for temporary layoffs for federally-regulated industries until December 30th, 2020
- For employees laid off prior to March 31st, 2020, the time period is extended by six months or to December 30th, 2020, whichever occurs first.
- For employees laid off between March 31st, 2020, and September 30th, 2020, the time period is extended until December 30th, 2020, unless a later recall date was provided in a written notice at the time of the layoff.
- COVID-19 Temporary Layoffs
- Apply for a COVID-19 Temporary Layoff Variance
- Workers Rights: COVID-19 Temporary Layoffs
- Employment Standards Act from the Government of British Columbia
- What Employers Need to Know About Temporary Layoffs
FAQs for Employers
Can I rehire employees let go due to COVID-19?
Yes. Letting an employee go now doesn’t preclude you from hiring them again.
It's important to recognize that COVID-19 may not be "over" any time soon. As businesses start reopening under the BC Restart Plan, we all face a "new normal." Part of that means finding ways to retain employees, and rehire employees initially let go when COVID-19 hit.
The Government of Canada has introduced several programs to help businesses through COVID-19 that may allow you to retain employees or rehire them sooner than you might have thought.
Can an eligible employer claim the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for an employee that the employer has hired back and pays retroactively?
Yes. It is possible for an eligible employer to hire back eligible employees and pay them retroactively in respect of a claim period, to be able to qualify for the wage subsidy.
Further, if such an employee has received a Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payment from the CRA for a claim period, and it is later determined that they are no longer eligible for the CERB, whether due to the employment or otherwise the employee is required to repay the CERB payment. There are ways for the employee to return or repay the CERB amount. For more details on repayment, please refer to Return or repay on the Apply for CERB web page.
- The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)
- Frequently Asked Questions Relating to CEWS
- Expanded Work Sharing Program
Is there a template for an employee agreeing to a temporary layoff?
There is no official template to use to process temporary layoffs. The employee must agree to accept a temporary layoff before you proceed. It’s recommended to speak to an employment law expert before making any official changes to ensure you are acting in the best interest of both your employees and your business.
After deciding to temporarily layoff an employee, you will need to communicate this change with them through a written letter. Within the letter, ensure the following details are present:
- Explain the reason for the temporary layoff
- Date the layoff is effective from
- Date the layoff is expected to last until
- When you expect to re-evaluate the decision
- Your plan for the phased recall of employees
- Instructions on how they can apply for Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
My employee doesn’t qualify for EI. Can they still receive benefits?
Yes. If an individual has stopped working because of COVID-19, they should apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), whether or not they are eligible for Employment Insurance. The benefit is available for the period from March 15, 2020 to October 3, 2020.