COVID-19 Updated FAQ’s: Employment insurance, layoffs and working from home


An employee has travelled outside of Canada but does not wish to self-isolate for 14 days. The employee states they have no symptoms and want to return to work.

Employees who are to self-isolate as a result of travel outside of Canada based on the order of the Provincial Health Officer should not return to work until they have completed the self-isolation period. The Order for self-isolation following travel is not dependent on symptoms.

Employment Insurance (EI)

Are quarantined employees eligible for EI sickness benefits?

Yes. In addition to employees who are sick, eligible employees who are quarantined now qualify for EI sickness benefits.

The Federal government recently announced changes to the application process to fast track applications for people under quarantine. EI applications for persons under quarantine are being processed on a priority basis.

The regular 1-week waiting period has been waived for eligible employees under quarantine. Employees can call 1-833-381-2725 to request that the waiting period be waived. Normally, a medical certificate is also required to obtain EI sickness benefits. That requirement has also been waived for persons who are required to go into quarantine. If a COVID-19 diagnosis extends the period of quarantine, a doctor’s note will be required for benefit to continue.

Is an employee who is “self-isolating” eligible for EI sickness benefits?

Quarantine and self-isolation will be treated as the same for the purposes of EI sickness benefits where self-isolation is in accordance with public health guidance. Self-isolation which is voluntary and otherwise exceeds these parameters will not engage the relaxed EI rules.

Can employers agree to “top-up” regular EI benefits?

Yes. Employers may create and register a supplemental unemployment benefit (SUB) plan to top-up employees’ weekly earnings when they are unemployed due to a temporary stoppage of work, training, illness, injury or quarantine. Payments from SUB plans that are registered with Service Canada are not considered ‘earnings’ and are not deducted from an employee’s EI benefits.

An overview of the Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program is available here and an overview of SUB plan requirements is available here.

What is the Work-Sharing program and how does it work?

Work-Sharing is a government program designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs where there is a temporary reduction in business that is beyond the control of the employer. The program provides income support to eligible employees who agree to work a temporarily reduced work week. It is a three-party agreement involving the employer, the employees and Service Canada.

The Government has temporarily extended the duration of Work-Sharing agreements from 38 weeks to 76 weeks across Canada for those businesses impacted by COVID-19.

More information about Work-Sharing, including eligibility requirements and the application process is available here.

Employee Lay-Offs

Can an employer lay-off employees temporarily?

Lay-off provisions are a common feature of collective agreements and the conditions of lay-off and/or recall for unionized employees will depend upon the language of the collective agreement.

A manager or other non-union employee generally may only be laid off temporarily if the employment contract provides for the possibility of temporary lay-off, if temporary layoffs are common in the industry, or if the employee agrees to the layoff. In most industries, temporary layoffs are uncommon and are not a feature of the employment contract. In those circumstances, a temporary layoff without the employee’s agreement may trigger a constructive dismissal.  In the current environment there may be an argument available for exceptions based upon circumstances that are unforeseeable and beyond the employer’s control.  Employers are strongly advised to obtain legal advice before laying off non-union employees.

Working Remotely

How can we effectively manage employees who are working remotely?

At a minimum, employers should have a working from home policy in place which outlines the employer’s expectations regarding work from home arrangements. These policies should cover issues such as hours of work and availability; productivity; keeping in contact with supervisors and colleagues; safety and maintaining a safe workspace; and maintaining confidentiality.

Working from home or from mobile devices gives rise to privacy risks and potential leakage of confidential business information. These concerns that can be addressed by carefully vetting online providers, and through careful planning and instruction to staff about managing these risks. Employers need to provide clear direction to staff about privacy and data security issues that may arise when they are working from home. Processes also need to be in place to deal with any breaches of privacy that may arise.

COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool

The government of British Columbia launched an online COVID-19 self-assessment tool. The self-assessment tool can be used to determine if an individual requires further assessment or testing for COVID-19.

The province has also created a phone service to provide non-medical information about COVID-19 including the latest information on travel recommendations and social distancing: 1-888-COVID19 or via text message at 604-630-0300.

Note to our Readers: Information regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. We are working to bring you up-to-date articles as the legal issues develop and to keep our previous posts updated. Given that the legal issues related to COVID-19 are constantly changing, if you are looking for legal advice or are dealing with an issue in relation to COVID-19, please contact your Harris lawyer or a member of our COVID-19 response team: Sari Wiens, Ilan BurkesNicole Toye or Jessica Fairbairn.

To read our most recent articles and other updates on COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Updates page.