Canada

CHAUDHRI: Why the nation’s $343-billion deficit is a call to action for employees

While the CERB was a welcome salve for a workforce wounded by COVID-19, it also came with some serious unintended side effects.

Many employees taking home the $2,000 monthly benefit have not been as eager to return to work. Some feel they wouldn’t make much more by returning to work while others are concerned about the health risks of leaving home.

In turn, many employers were left asking themselves: Now that we can reopen, where are our employees? Why won’t they return?

This week, Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau released the nation’s fiscal and economic snapshot.

Despite its intention to the contrary, it contains a warning to all employees. If you are lucky enough to have a job, do not take it for granted and return to work. Continued dependence on the CERB may significantly weaken our job market. Employees feed our economy.

Regarding employment specifically, the fiscal snapshot contained some startling facts:

— A whopping 5.5 million Canadians (about 30% of the workforce) have been laid off, terminated or saw reduced hours because of COVID-19.

— Unemployment hit 13.7% in May; its highest level on record.

— Retail, trade, travel, entertainment, hospitality and tourism — some of which employ a greater proportion of low-wage workers, visible minorities and women — will continue to feel the impact acutely.

— Job postings remain at low levels across the nation compared to previous years.

— The working hours of mothers of young children fell proportionately more than for fathers or mothers of older children.

– Overall, more than 8 million Canadians applied for the CERB.

There are, however, some silver linings.

The report declared that Canada is doing a good job containing the pandemic. As of June 21, the seven-day incidence in daily new cases in Canada has declined by 80% from a staggering 1,730 new cases per day on April 26.

While the peak has passed Canadians, the government still warns the pandemic is far from over. To mitigate the risk, increased spending on testing, tracing and health-care capacity are priorities. This is good for workplaces.

Also, the government is planning to extend the employee wage subsidy program (CEWS) beyond August that was created to provide eligible employers with relief of up to 75% of employee compensation. While we don’t know how long the CEWS will run for, we do know the government is placing more control back into the hands of employers to create new jobs, support existing jobs and recall employees to work as soon as possible.

This fiscal snapshot is only a projection.

Forecasting is a challenge in a pandemic environment. The only sure thing is that this snapshot is a harbinger of things to come if employees don’t heed the call to action. The health of our economy is tied to employment. When employers and employees work together, only then will our job market improve.

On to your weekly COVID-19 workplace questions:

I work in Toronto and now my employer says I have to wear a mask when I didn’t have to before. Is my employer allowed to make me wear a mask?

The City of Toronto mandated the wearing of a mask or face coverings in an enclosed public space starting July 7. This includes:

– retail stores
– convenience stores
– malls, shopping plazas
– grocery stores, bakeries, farmer’s markets (enclosed areas)
– restaurants, bars (when permitted to open for indoor service)
– indoor recreational facilities, gyms, swimming pools (when permitted to open)
– libraries
– community centres
– community service agencies
– personal service settings
– churches, mosque, synagogue, temples and faith settings
– art galleries, museums, aquariums, zoos
– banquet halls, convention centres, arenas, stadiums, and other event spaces
– real estate facilities such as open houses, presentation centres
– common areas in hotels, motels and short-term rentals (e.g. lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms)
– entertainment facilities, including concert venues, theatres, cinemas, casinos
– business offices open to the public

You may be exempt if you cannot wear a mask for medical reasons. Otherwise, if you fall into a category above, you will have to wear one for the time being and can remove it for practical reasons like eating, drinking, etc.

I have worked for the same company for 36 years. Some weeks ago, the owner laid me off for “lack of work.” I applied for EI and was switched over to CERB. I found out last week that my employer has sold the company, did not tell anyone she was doing this and after 36 years I walk out the door with nothing.  How do I claim severance?

If the shares of the company were sold, you would continue to be employed by the new owner. If only the assets were sold, you may already be terminated. Contact your employer right away to determine if you have a job to return to. If you hear nothing, I would suggest getting a lawyer involved to help you. Time is of the essence.

Send me your COVID-19-related workplace questions at schaudhri@levittllp.com and your question may be featured in a future article.

— Sunira Chaudhri is a partner at Levitt LLP, Labour & Employment Lawyers

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