COVID-19 & Reformed Employment Insurance (EI) FAQ’s for Canadian Employers

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FAQ about Coronavirus

Last Updated March 13, 2020

All travellers arriving in Canada from international points are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution. 

Those who develop symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) or any other symptoms within 14 days after returning to Canada, are advised to contact Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000), your health-care provider, or local health authority.  Inform them about your symptoms and travel history.

FAQ’s

  1. What is the Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that originate in animals but are known to cause respiratory illness in humans, particularly during the fall and winter months. Other novel coronaviruses have included Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

In January 2020, a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia originating in Wuhan. The provincial government provides updated statistics for Ontario.

  1. What is the risk?

The situation is rapidly evolving and everyone should take guidance from public health agencies at the local, provincial and federal level, who are closely monitoring the outbreak, conducting surveillance and appropriate laboratory testing, and providing public health and infection control guidance.

To date cases have been reported in individuals who have been in affected areas, and those who have had personal contact with infected individuals. The risk of more severe illness may be higher for individuals with weakened immune systems such as older people or chronic diseases such as diabetes, or heart, renal or chronic lung disease.

  1. Should staff attend work?

As usual, those with flu-like symptoms, who have not travelled internationally to an affected region, or had close contact with a person ill with COVID-19, should stay at home.

Those who have travelled to a region under a level 3 (avoid non-essential travel) or 4 (avoid all travel) federal advisory due to COVID-19, or have had close contact with a person ill with COVID-19, should limit their contact with others for a total of 14 days from the date that they left the region or were in contact with a person ill with COVID-19. This means self-isolate and staying at home. In addition, they should contact their local public health authority within 24 hours of arriving in Canada.

Travellers returning from other affected areas should monitor for symptoms and consider avoiding coming to work where there is the potential for close contact with others for 14 days. Those who develop symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) or any other symptoms within 14 days after returning to Canada, are advised to contact Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000), your health-care provider, or local health authority. Inform them about your symptoms and travel history.

If you are not already isolated, self-quarantine yourself in your home.

4. What are the symptoms of novel Coronavirus?

Symptoms range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing

Many of these symptoms are similar to seasonal influenza. Should you experience these symptoms AND have recently travelled internationally to an affected region, avoid contact with others and follow-up with your health care professional.

5. What can I do to protect myself?

As usual, continue to practise good hand washing techniques and hygiene practices. This includes washing thoroughly with soap and water, using hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and staying at home if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

And avoid shaking hands, since the virus can be spread this way. Instead, consider greeting people with a nod, wave or bow.

6. Should I wear a mask?

For general, day-to-day activities, there is no need to wear a surgical or N95 mask. Toronto Public Health advises residents to take the usual measures to reduce the risk of influenza and other respiratory infections:

  • Get a yearly flu vaccination, available from clinics and pharmacies as this is the best way to prevent influenza infection.
  • Clean your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze.
  • If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm.
  • Stay at home if you are sick.

7. I am planning to travel in the coming days. What should I do?

It is recommended that all staff carefully consider any non-essential business and personal travel that is planned in the coming weeks. The situation is evolving rapidly in many parts of the world and travel restrictions may be imposed on short notice. The Public Health Agency of Canada has recently advised against travel on cruise ships. Furthermore, returning travellers could face a period of self-isolation or quarantine. Additionally, travel insurance coverage may be limited (or not provided) to those travelling to affected areas.

It is recommended that you review your travel insurance before travelling internationally.

If you choose to travel, please consult the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 travel advisory website.

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Employment Insurance (EI) and COVID-19

Updated March 13 2020 *Dedicated EI Contact Info

What are EI sick-leave benefits?

Eligible workers with no or limited paid-leave benefits through their employers can apply for up to 15 weeks of employment insurance if they cannot work for medical reasons such as cancer, a broken leg, or in this case, being quarantined in a public-health threat.

How is the government adjusting the program for COVID-19?

Normally, a worker who qualifies for the benefits has a one-week waiting period before payments start, so if you’re quarantined for two weeks you’d only get sickness benefits for one of those weeks. For people quarantined due to COVID-19, the government is eliminating the waiting period entirely, so you can get EI benefits for an entire 14-day quarantine. The government previously waived the waiting period, which was then two weeks, during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Who qualifies for EI sick-leave benefits?

Employed Canadians who pay EI premiums, and self-employed people who register to participate in the EI program, will qualify if they cannot work because of a medical condition, have lost at least 40 percent of their usual weekly pay, and worked a minimum of 600 hours in the year before the claim or since their last EI claim. If you are self-employed and pay into EI, you have to wait at least 12 months after registering to make a claim.

Do I need a doctor’s note?

Normally a medical certificate signed by your doctor is required to get sick-leave benefits but a spokeswoman for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the government is waiving the note for

patients required to go into quarantine by law or by a public-health official. People who are asked to self-isolate by their employers when public-health officials recommend it can also qualify.

The exact documentation required is still evolving, said Health Minister Patty Hajdu, but she said the goal is to minimize the effort required of a person who needs to go into quarantine. 

What happens if I get sick and the quarantine period is extended?

If you are put into quarantine as a precaution and aren’t sick then, but later do test positive for COVID-19, a signed medical certificate confirming the diagnosis will be required for you to receive sick-leave EI benefits beyond the initial period of the quarantine.

How much will I receive from EI sick leave?

The current EI payment is 55 percent of your earnings up to a maximum of $573 a week.

What if I don’t qualify for EI sick-leave benefits?

At the moment there is no program but the government is “exploring additional measures” to provide some kind of income support for Canadians not eligible for EI sickness benefits.

How much does the government think it will cost to do this?

The government is budgeting $5 million to waive the one-week waiting period. However, Qualtrough acknowledged the cost could change depending on how widespread the outbreak is in Canada.

Contact the new dedicated toll-free phone number if you are in quarantine and seeking to waive the one-week EI sickness benefits waiting period so you can be paid for the first week of your claim:

Telephone: 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free)

Teletypewriter (TTY): 1-800-529-3742

Jess Watt

Author Jess Watt

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