As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve in the province, the Alberta Government is taking action to address the impact of the virus and contain further contagion.
Over the weekend, Premier Kenney announced the Government of Alberta’s intention to introduce paid leave during the fourteen-day isolation period recommended by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), as a means of managing, in part, the effect of the pandemic on employers, their employees, and their workplaces. These measures are being put in place in order to create conditions for better compliance with the CMO’s recommendations and directions. It is anticipated that the Government of Alberta will provide additional details on the new paid leave entitlement as early as today, and we will provide an update as soon as it is available.
The Alberta government has stated that fourteen days of paid job-protected leave for any employees who are required to self-isolate, or those who are sick or caring for a loved one with COVID-19, will be implemented under the Alberta Employment Standards Code (the “Code”). Employees will not be required to produce a medical note, nor do they need to have worked for their employer for more than 90 days to be eligible for the new leave.
Currently, those required to self-isolate are individuals who have recently, or will soon be returning from travel outside of Canada, those who may have been exposed to COVID-19, and those who have tested positive for COVID-19. At this time, it is unclear whether employees who have travelled for leisure against employer recommendations would be eligible for this paid leave upon their return to Canada, but this has not expressly been addressed.
Unpaid leaves already legislated under the Alberta Code could also be implemented as employees react to changing circumstances in the wake of COVID-19. These unpaid leaves may become particularly relevant not only with respect to caring for sick loved ones, but also for employees who must care for their children in the wake of recent class cancellations for students across Alberta. These unpaid leaves include:
- Personal and Family Responsibility Leave;
- Critical Illness Leave;
- Compassionate Care Leave;
- Long-term Illness Leave;
- Bereavement Leave; and
- Any other leave provided for in an employment agreement or collective bargaining agreement.
Premier Kenney has acknowledged the financial and operational impact this will have on employers, and has indicated that the provincial government continues to work toward a solution to address these challenges. This paid leave may be covered through expanded federal unemployment insurance, but this remains to be confirmed. Just this morning Prime Minister Trudeau announced more provincial funding and assistance.
Further details regarding how these changes will take effect is expected in the coming days. We also recommend that employers communicate to their employees how their benefit programs can assist them through short term and long term disability leaves and employee assistance programs. Supporting mental health and well-being is also very important during this unprecedented time. Employers, through calm, informed and strong leadership can position themselves, their teams and their businesses for future success.
If you have any questions about this topic, other COVID-19 related questions, or would like assistance with developing and/or reviewing pandemic plans, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.