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Government of Canada announces changes to Employment Insurance and Work-Share Program as part of $1 billion COVID-19 fund

Jennifer Thompson

As employees and employers grapple with the practical implications of a potential COVID-19 outbreak, the Government of Canada has stepped up to the plate with an announcement of a $1 billion fund to finance a range of measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus and preparing the country for what seems like an inevitable wider outbreak across Canada.

One of the announced measures, which will ease concerns of many employees, is waiving the mandatory one week waiting period for Employment Insurance (“EI”).  The impact of this is that employees who are unable to work due to COVID-19 will now be able to claim EI from the first day of sickness, rather than having to wait a week before they can receive any payments.  This measure will also benefit those who are in quarantine or who have been directed to self-isolate as a precaution.  This may not apply to those who voluntarily self-isolate without direction from public health officials, but may cover those asked to quarantine by their employer where this measure was recommended by public health officials.  At this stage, it is also unclear what documentation would be required.  Unfortunately, this announcement does not address those not eligible for EI sickness benefits; however, the government has confirmed that it will be considering what help may be available to those individuals, including income support.

The announcement also included enhancements to the Work-Sharing program.  This is a program “designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity that is beyond the control of the employer. The measure provides income support to employees eligible for Employment Insurance benefits who work a temporarily reduced work week while their employer recovers.”¹ Ordinarily, this program can be used for a maximum of 38 weeks, however, this has now been extended to 76 weeks to help employers and employees during any economic downturn as a result of COVID-19.  It should be noted that both the employer and employee must agree to the Work-Sharing arrangement.

The other measures included in the $1 billion package include:

  • $50m to the Public Health Agency of Canada for public education and communications;
  • $550m to the provinces and territories for “critical health care system needs” in support of its statement that financial considerations will not and should not be an obstacle to the necessary preparations;
  • $100m for federal health measures, including supporting the preparations of the First Nations and Inuit communities;
  • $275m towards research into COVID-19, including vaccines and potential treatments;
  • $50m to the Public Health Agency of Canada for purchases of personal protective equipment for the provinces and territories; and
  • $50m to the World Health Organization to support global efforts.

The full statement from the Government of Canada can be found here.


¹ Employment and Social Development Canada, https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/work-sharing.html


This article is provided for general information only. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Labour and Employment Group.

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