As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Alberta has implemented a 14 day unpaid job-protected leave for the isolation period recommended by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for employees who:
- Have recently, or will soon be returning from travel outside of Canada;
- May have been exposed to COVID-19; or
- Have themselves tested positive for COVID-19.
Originally contemplated as a paid leave, the 14 day unpaid leave is also available to employees who are caring for a child or dependent adult that is required to self-isolate, particularly those at home due to recent school closures across the province.
To access the leave, 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.
If the advice of Alberta’s CMO changes with the evolving pandemic, the duration of the leave may be adjusted. When he first addressed this new leave, he said it would be paid. The 14 day job protected leave is now in effect and it is not required to be paid by employers.
Unpaid leaves already legislated under the Employment Standards Code could also be used by employees as they 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.
Where the above leaves are inappropriate, or insufficient for the employee’s particular circumstances, employees can request to use their vacation pay or banked overtime, but employers are not required to grant the request. Similarly, employers may request that employees voluntarily take vacation leave and/or use their vacation pay or banked overtime, however, the employer cannot unilaterally enforce this on employees under provincial employment standards.
Details about the various government programs being launched to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are available here.
Among other programs, and as a supplement to the Federal government’s EI measures, the Alberta government announced on March 18, 2020, that it will launch an Emergency Isolation Support program meant to bridge employees until the federal Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments are available in April.
The Emergency Isolation Support is budgeted to provide $1,146 as a one-time payment to employees in self-isolation, who are also not eligible for, and not receiving EI benefits during this time. The $1,146 one-time payment matches two normal maximum EI payments, equivalent to approximately $573 each.
The program is expected to be available through a simple online application on Alberta.ca as early as next week, and funds will be deposited to eligible recipient beginning at that time. More information will be available on this program next week. We recommend that employers communicate to their employees about 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.
We will continue to update our clients with information as soon as it becomes available. 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.