Founder’s Guide: Navigating Human Resources During #COVID-19

COVID-19 has completely altered the business landscape, and almost every Canadian business has undergone massive operational changes in the last couple of weeks. One of the forefront issues that many startups and small businesses face relate to the workplace. We’ve put together this blog post to provide you some practical insights into navigating the HR realm during this time.

1) Support Remote Work and Workplace Culture

By this stage, employers are likely to 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, as well as safety and maintaining a safe workspace.

It’s also important to keep in mind that workplace culture is key at a time like this. We spoke to Rudolf du Toit, Change Consultant at Kin&Co, to better understand what startups and small businesses can do now from a human capital perspective.

The key to maintaining wellbeing and productivity, du Toit believes, is to engage your employees in building a culture of resilience and adaptability. “If culture is most simply ‘how you do things’, this is ‘how you do things in times of crisis’” du Toit says.

One way of building such a culture is to build healthy practices around remote work, such as providing clear guidelines and support to maintain social connection. This is critical in a time like this. At the same time, train people on self-care, wellbeing, and resilience to change. Even if people don’t become physically sick, mental health challenges are becoming widespread. We need to be proactive in solving these issues as they come across.

2) Understand the Legal Implications of COVID-19

Temporary Layoffs: This has been one of the most frequently asked questions for many employment lawyers. Although in the current COVID-19 environment employers are temporarily laying off employees, there is still a real risk that any unilateral lay off of employees may be treated as a termination of employment under employment standards legislation or the common law. It is worth noting that there is currently no present statutory requirement (at the time of writing this post) for the employer to pay the employee during a temporary layoff although some employers choose to do so.

We strongly recommend contacting us and connecting with an employment lawyer before you choose to temporarily layoff employees.

Remind Your Employees About Sick Leave: If you are an essential business and you’re currently open, please note that sick days and sick leaves can become a proactive measure to ensure the containment of the Coronavirus. It’s important to remind your employees that if they are not feeling well or have a family member who is ill, that they are entitled to leaves of absence. Under the Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA), an employee would be entitled to three days of unpaid sick leave per calendar year. They are also entitled to take another three days of unpaid family responsibility leave each calendar year due to sickness, injuries, or other urgent health-related matters involving an employee’s family member. To care for a critically ill minor child or adult, ESA allows employees to take unpaid critical illness leaves of up to 37 weeks (for minors) and 17 weeks (for adults).

Combat Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace: Another issue worth mentioning is racism and discrimination in the workplace. Human rights legislation prohibits discrimination and differential treatment based on race, place of origin, ancestry, and ethnicity. You do have a responsibility to create a safe, harassment-free workplace for your employees, even if it’s now in the remote workforce.

As an employer, some things to consider include: creating educational e-posters, online training and development, ensure workplace policies on discrimination are clear, and identify someone (preferably in Human Resources) if employees feel they need to address a potential concern.

Beware of Privacy: Employee’s personal information, which as you might have guessed by now, includes their health information, is confidential. This information should not be disclosed to other employees. Avoid providing information about the name, date of birth, or other identifiers of the COVID-19 subject individual.

3) Consider the Government Programs in your Human Resources Strategy:

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been various government programs and subsidies put in place to help businesses and employees during this time. We would like to draw your attention to the following programs:

Canada Emergency Response Benefit: The Canadian government announced the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit – $2000 per month for 4 months available to anyone who applies. They will ask for 3 things:

1. Did you earn at least $5000 in the past year

2. Did you lose your job because of Covid-19? 3. Your SIN number

This is available to anyone, whether you qualify for EI or not; and whether you lost your job because of:

a. Being sick

b. Being laid off c. Having to care for a sick person or d. Having to stay home to care for your children

They say the entire application process will be online through the CRA system. They hope to have it available online on April 6th – with payments being made within 10 days.

It is worth noting that if you are already on EI (or have applied), your file will be transferred to this type of benefit for the 4 months.

Work sharing Program: This 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 workweek. One way to think about it is that it is a three-party agreement involving the employer, the employees and Service Canada. It is worth noting that an application for a Work-Sharing agreement must be submitted a minimum of 30 days prior to the requested start date.

The temporary special measures will:

· Extend the Work-Sharing agreements from 38 weeks to 76 weeks

· Wave the mandatory waiting period between agreements

· Ease the recovery plan requirements

If you’re an employer and you can’t make payroll and the Work Sharing Program may not work for you. There are also other programs that may help during this time. One being the Temporary Small Business Wage Subsidy.

Temporary Small Business Wage Subsidy: The temporary program is aimed at helping employers reduce payroll deductions and retain workers. It is a 3 month measure that will allow eligible small businesses to reduce the amount of payroll deductions required to be remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The subsidy will be equal to 10% of the remuneration paid in the 3-month period up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Employers will be permitted to reduce their remittances of income tax withheld on their employee’s remuneration.

You are an eligible employer if you:

· are a non-profit organization, registered charity, or a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC);

· have an existing business number and payroll program account with the CRA on March 18, 2020; and

· pay salary, wages, bonuses, or other remuneration to an employee.

How Does It Work? Using the CRA’s example, a company with five employees will be able to receive a maximum subsidy of $6,875 (or $1,375 per employee).

Businesses are required to do the math themselves for the total subsidy, based on CRA guidelines. Once a company has done the calculations, it can reduce its current remittance of federal, provincial or territorial income tax sent to the CRA. Note: Companies can’t reduce Canada Pension Plan contributions or employment insurance (EI) premiums.

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

Speak with a Startup Lawyer at Emerge LLP

f you are thinking about starting a company and would like to speak with a lawyer, schedule an initial consultation at Emerge Law. To speak with a startup business lawyer in confidence, contact us to book an appointment.

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