CFA Webinar: An Employer’s Guide to Returning to Work during COVID-19

On June 23, the Canadian Fabricare Association (CFA) hosted a webinar of legal experts from Macdonald Sager Manis LLP to discuss the intricacies of safely bringing employees back to work as the pandemic restrictions ease over time. The webinar was free to all CFA members and ran for an hour.

Attorneys Christine Jonathan, Matthew Wise and Christopher West gave in-depth information and fielded questions from participants, as well as invited after-webinar calls and emails with specific situations that required advice.

Matthew Wise focused on providing sufficient notice of a return date to employees when they had to be laid off due to the Covid-19 crisis, as well as any changes to their work schedule. Such notification should be given in writing, and employees should confirm if they can return. A staggered return plan was recommended (such as Monday, Wednesday, Friday start-up, or having different people work different schedules) to minimize contact.

Wise talked about the actions the Government of Ontario had taken regarding temporary layoffs due to the crisis, such as extending the normal 13 weeks layoff to 20 weeks before work benefits kick in (and it may be extended beyond the August 11 deadline.) Such a layoff is not to be confused with a constructive dismissal. The Infectious Disease Emergency Leave program is unpaid leave that also protects the worker’s job. It will also end 6 weeks after Covid is deemed under control.

Webinar attendees were concerned about the legal ramifications of letting someone go if they didn’t return to work, and the attorneys agreed that the courts will probably take a wholistic approach to any challenges, because these are unprescedented times and there is no legal history to which to refer. This means every case will stand on its own details, so document everything.

Christopher West took on the intricacies of the various government relief programs available to employees (CERB), employers (CEWS), landlords (CECRA) and business owners (BCAP). Here are web links to each of these programs, so you can get further information and access applications, etc.

Canadian Emergency Response Benefit

Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy

Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance

Business Credit Available Program

Christine Jonathan spoke about things to consider prior to reopening.

— how to configure the workplace to accommodate distancing,

— schedule of frequent disinfecting and cleaning,

— accommodations to be made for employees with pre-existing health conditions,

— staggered return to work schedule,

— necessity of screening employees coming in,

— whether personal protective equipment (PPE) should or must be provided by the employer.

Employers are required to accommodate employees and provide a safe work environment. In these days of Covid-19, however, the definition of ‘safe’ has changed.

She also urged companies to have either a management team or an individual designated to whom employees can go with their concerns, questions and to report illness. Employee privacy issues were also touched upon.

Much more information was covered in this hour-long webinar. Our hats off to CFA for sponsoring it and to the legal firm for providing their expert attorneys to address the topic.

For more information on CFA membership, visit www.fabricare.org.

For information or to schedule an appointment with the Macdonald Sager Manis firm, visit www.msmlaw.ca. Per the website, even though the firm’s attorneys are all working from home, they are available via email and phone for immediate attention.

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