I. March 18: 2020: New COVID-19 statutory leave exception to the current Long Term Injury or Illness Leave
On March 18, 2020, the Alberta government filed new regulation to enact the above leave but not as previously announced. The leave is an exception to the current Long Term Injury or Illness Leave. The new Employment Standards (COVID-19 Leave) Regulation is retroactive to March 5, 2020, and provides for the following:
- employees are entitled to unpaid leave for 14 consecutive days if the employee is under self-isolation or self-quarantine as a result of COVID-19, as may be recommended by the Chief Medical Officer (see below);
- there is no minimum duration during which an employee has to be employed by an employer to take advantage of the new COVID-19 leave;
- an employee is not required to provide a medical certificate to qualify for COVID-19 leave;
- an employee under quarantine is not required to give any written notice or any notice to the employer of the date the employee intends to return to work;
- employees will still continue to be entitled to 16 weeks unpaid leave in a calendar year for long term illness or injury in accordance with the requirements of that leave; and
- the Minister may extend the duration of the COVID-19 leave upon the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer in the future.
An employer cannot terminate or lay-off an employee who is on Long Term Injury or Illness Leave. Therefore any employer planning temporary layoffs under the Employment Standards Code, or who have already given notice of temporary layoff, may need to review whether or not any employees who have been laid off or are scheduled to be laid off qualify for the COVID-19 exception leave.
The Alberta Chief Medical Officer has recommended individuals self-isolate or self-quarantine in the following circumstances:
- if they are in contact with a confirmed case of COVID 19;
- if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19;
- if they have returned to Alberta from anywhere outside Canada on or after March 12, 2020; and
- if they returned to Alberta from Italy, Iran, the Hubei Province of China or the Grande Princess Cruise ship, before March 12, 2020.
II. Family leave
On April 5, 2020, a new unpaid leave of absence has been created for employees who need time off from work because of child-care responsibilities or caring for ill or self-isolated family members. The 90-day employment requirement is waived and leave length is flexible. Employers are entitled to make certain inquiries in dealing with requests for this new family leave. Employees are protected from termination and layoff while on this leave, though there is normally an exception in cases where an employer suspends or discontinues part or all of its operations. This change is retroactive to March 17, 2020.
On June 18, 2020, the Alberta government introduced Bill 24, the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Statutes Amendment Act which proposes changes to the Employment Standards Code, among other things. Proposed changes include the extension of the unpaid COVID-19 job-protected leave for care of a child due to school or daycare closures or to care for an ill or self-isolating family member, to August 2021.
On June 26, 2020, the Alberta COVID-19 Pandemic Response Statutes Amendment Act was enacted and extends the COVID-19 leave.
III. Emergency Isolation Support program [This program is now closed]
On April 6, 2020, the Alberta government indicated that the Emergency Isolation Support program is now closed after successfully distributing more than $91 million to about 79,600 eligible Albertans over the last 12 days. The purpose of the program was to bridge the short period until the Government of Canada announced its own support program. The Government of Canada’s new Canada Emergency Response Benefit is available and accepting applications. Payments for eligible applicants are retroactive to March 15.
On March 18, 2020, the Alberta government announced the Emergency Isolation Support with an investment of $50 million. Details were announced on March 25, 2020. The support is for employees who have experienced a total or significant loss of income as a result of having to self-isolate or care for a dependent who is self-isolated. Individuals will be entitled to a one-time payment of $1,146 if they:
- have been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
- are caring for a dependent who is self-isolating; or
- have otherwise been directed by health authorities to self-isolate; and
- are not receiving compensation from any other source.
This is a temporary program to bridge the gap until the Federal CERB is available April 6, 2020.
The application, along with full eligibility criteria, is available at alberta.ca.