Critical workers continue to be the everyday heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. To recognize their key role in the response to COVID-19, the Alberta Government has announced the new Alberta Critical Worker Benefit. Employers with eligible employees are expected to apply and administer the benefit on behalf of the government. It is important to apply early as the deadlines are in March and there is a cap on the total amount the government will pay.
What is the Critical Worker Benefit?
The Critical Worker Benefit will distribute up to $465 million to more than 380,000 eligible workers who deliver critical basic services to Albertans, or support Alberta’s food and medical supply chains, in the health care, social services, education, and other private sectors in the province, including those in:
- grocery, pharmacy, and gas retail locations;
- food manufacturing;
- truck transportation of food and medical supplies;
- warehousing and storage of food and medical supplies;
- private health clinics; and
- private sector workers in First Nations communities.
Eligible critical workers will receive a one-time lump-sum payment of $1,200. Employers will also receive an amount equal to 7.66% of the total funds approved for the eligible workers as additional funding, over and above the $1,200 per approved worker, towards administrative and costs related to applying for, and distributing, the funds.
Who is Eligible?
To be eligible, workers must:
- have been or currently be employed in Alberta in an eligible occupation by an employer operating in one of the sectors listed above who meets the Government of Alberta’s eligibility criteria;
- be located in Alberta;
- if in the private sector (other than in eligible health care, social services, and education sectors), earn a regular wage of $25.00 per hour (gross) or less; and
- have accumulated 300 paid hours with the eligible employer between October 12, 2020 and January 31, 2021.
How to Apply and Why?
Individual workers do not apply directly for the benefit. We caution that there may be a very negative morale impact if an employer has eligible employees and doesn’t apply for the benefit. Again, as there is a cap on the total amount paid for the benefit, early applications are also encouraged.
Before applying, employers are urged to review the Alberta Government’s detailed application guidelines to determine if their employees qualify.
Unlike for private sector employers, the Government of Alberta will be working directly with healthcare, social services, and education sector employers to distribute the benefit to eligible workers.
Private sector employers (including private health clinics) and employers with eligible workers in First Nations communities must apply for the Critical Worker Benefit on behalf of their eligible employees by March 19, 2021 through the online portal with their MyAlberta Digital ID for Business (MADI-B). They must also sign a Grant Agreement outlining the obligations of the employer and of the Alberta Government with respect to the benefit.
The online portal for eligible healthcare sector employees is expected to open on Monday, February 22, 2021. Health care employers, other than private health clinics and those who work in First Nations communities, must apply on behalf of their eligible workers through the online portal by March 31, 2021.
How will the Applications be Processed?
Applications will be assessed on a “first completed, first approved basis” until the program funds are exhausted, so it is important to apply as soon as possible.
There is no limit on the number of eligible employees an employer may apply for, including retired or former employees that resigned who meet the eligibility criteria. It will take at least two weeks for employers to receive a decision on their applications. If the application is approved, the employer will be notified through the online application portal, and the names of approved employers will be published on the Government of Alberta website. The funds will then be provided by the Government of Alberta for the employer to distribute to their critical workers under their normal payroll system. Employers will also be required to submit a Certificate of Grant Receipt to the Alberta Government confirming that each eligible worker received the funds within four weeks of having received the funds.
The Alberta Government will be carefully auditing all applications and corresponding grants to ensure that the information provided is accurate and that the funds are properly utilized. If the government is of the opinion that any false or misleading information has been provided or the funds are not paid to the workers, it may decline the employer’s application or may require the employer to repay any grant funds received. The employer may also be ineligible from applying for future grants.
We encourage employers to continue to monitor the Government of Alberta’s Critical Worker Benefit webpage in the event that any additional sectors are added to the eligibility criteria.
If you have any questions about whether your employees qualify for the Critical Worker Benefit, or any other COVID-19 or workplace related issues, please contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.