Income Supports and Labour Protections Available to Federally Regulated Employees During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Revised on 5 May 2020, 10:10 a.m.
Any substantive changes in this HillNote that have been made since the preceding issue are indicated in bold print.

(Disponible en français : Mesures de soutien du revenu et de protection de la main-d’œuvre pour les employés des secteurs sous réglementation fédérale pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19)

Some 900,000 employees work in Canada’s 18,000 federally regulated workplaces. These include banks, transportation industries, the broadcasting industry, and most federal Crown corporations.

Under the Canada Labour Code (Code), employers in these workplaces must ensure that the health and safety of their employees is protected. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this may mean asking employees to stay home if they are not performing essential services, are sick, are in quarantine or self-isolation, or are taking care of someone who is ill. For their part, employees have the right to refuse dangerous work. Similar protections exist at the provincial and territorial levels.

This publication provides an overview of the main income supports and labour protections available to federally regulated employees.

Employment Insurance Benefits

Under the Employment Insurance Act, Employment Insurance (EI) benefits are available to all eligible claimants, including those that are not in federally regulated workplaces.

Eligibility criteria vary depending on the type of benefit claimed, but generally claimants must have an interruption in their earnings, and have accumulated a certain number of hours in insurable employment (typically 600 hours). A medical certificate may also be required.

Most EI benefits are equal to 55% of the claimant’s average weekly insurable earnings, up to $54,200 as of 1 January 2020 (equivalent to a maximum of $573 per week).

Following are some of the EI benefits that may be relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic: 

  • Regular Benefits: available to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who cannot find employment; provided for a period of 14 to 45 weeks based on the regional unemployment rate and the hours of insurable employment accumulated (between 420 and 700 hours).
  • Sickness Benefits: provided to those who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine; offered for a maximum of 15 weeks.
  • Compassionate Care Benefits: available to those absent from work to provide care to a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks; provided for a maximum of 26 weeks.
  • Family Caregiver Benefits: offered to those who are away from work to care for critically ill children (under 18 years of age) or adult family members; provided for up to 35 weeks in the case of critically ill children or for up to 15 weeks in the case of critically ill adults.

New Measures Related to Income Support for Workers

As a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has implemented a series of measures related to income support for workers. Many of these measures have been legislated through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act (Bill C-13) and COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2 (Bill C-14), which received Royal Assent on 25 March and 11 April 2020, respectively. In addition, the Minister of Employment and Social Development is empowered to make regulations and interim orders with the objective of mitigating the economic effects of COVID-19. 

Notably, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is available for eligible workers, whether employed or self-employed, who suffer a loss of income for reasons related to COVID-19. Under the CERB, income support payments (amounting to $2,000 per month) are available for a maximum of 16 weeks, during the period from 15 March to 3 October 2020. Eligible workers have until 2 December 2020 to apply for retroactive payments. The CERB replaces the previously announced Emergency Care Benefit and Emergency Support Benefit.

The CERB is available to a series of workers impacted by COVID-19, including those who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19. It is also intended for workers who must stay home without pay to care for their children or other dependants while care facilities are closed, as well as for individuals who are still employed but are not receiving income.

Workers who became eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits prior to 15 March 2020 will see their claims processed under the pre-existing EI program rules. By contrast, individuals who are eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits between 15 March and 3 October 2020, or who have exhausted their EI regular benefits between 29 December and 3 October 2020, may be eligible for the EI Emergency Response Benefit. The EI Emergency Response Benefit is closely aligned with income support payments under the CERB.

A medical certificate is no longer required for EI claims starting 15 March 2020 or later; this will remain in effect until 30 September 2020. A medical certificate is not required for CERB claims either.

Special measures with regards to the EI Work-Sharing Program for workplaces affected by the pandemic have also been put in place, effective 15 March 2020 to 14 March 2021. Through Work-Sharing agreements, income support is provided to eligible employees who work a temporarily reduced work week while their employer recovers from a decrease in business activity. Among other aspects, the temporary special measures:

  • extend the Work-Sharing agreements by an additional 38 weeks (for a maximum of 76 weeks);
  • waive the mandatory waiting period between agreements for employers who have already used the program;
  • ease eligibility requirements by accepting employers who have been in business for one year instead of two and by eliminating the need to provide sales/production figures; and
  • expand eligibility for staff essential to recovery, Government Business Enterprises and not-for-profit organization employers.

Measures related to EI and the CERB are complemented by other income supports, including temporary wage subsidies meant to avoid layoffs and return employees to work, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.

Leaves of Absence under the Canada Labour Code

Under the Code, employees in federally regulated workplaces are entitled to several job-protected leaves of absence, including: medical leave (17 weeks), personal leave (5 days), compassionate care leave (28 weeks), leave related to critical illness (37 weeks for critically ill children and 17 weeks for critically ill adults), and bereavement leave (5 days).

Most of these leaves are unpaid under the Code; however, employees may have access to income replacement benefits provided under the EI system for reasons such as sickness, compassionate care and critical illness. By contrast, personal leave and bereavement leave are partially paid under the Code.

Employers may not dismiss, suspend, lay off, demote or discipline an employee for taking any of these leaves. However, employees are required to provide their employers with written notice of their leave and, in certain cases, a certificate from a health care practitioner.

New Measures Related to Leaves of Absence

The COVID-19 Emergency Response Act also amends the Code to, among other aspects, provide for the following changes in relation to leaves of absence:

  • introduce a new leave of up to 16 weeks for employees who are unable or unavailable to work for reasons related to COVID-19, effective 25 March to 1 October 2020; and
  • waive the requirement for a certificate from a health care practitioner for medical leave, compassionate care leave and leave related to critical illness, effective 25 March to 30 September 2020.

While on leave related to COVID-19, employees may have access to income support payments through the CERB.

Other Workplaces

Given that the labour standards provisions in the Code only apply to employees in federally regulated workplaces, those in other workplaces must turn to their applicable provincial or territorial labour standards legislation for guidance. The level of protection varies by jurisdiction.

Additional Resources

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, OH&S Legislation in Canada – Three Rights of Workers.

Department of Finance Canada, Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.

Department of Justice, Government of Canada’s response to COVID-19.

Employment and Social Development Canada, Labour Program and federally regulated workplaces – COVID-19

Employment and Social Development Canada, Digest of Benefit Entitlement Principles.

Employment and Social Development Canada, Summary of part III of the Canada Labour Code.

Author: Mayra Perez-Leclerc, Library of Parliament