New Government Website for Temporary Pandemic Pay: Some Clarifications and More Information to Come

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On May 6, 2020, the Ontario government unveiled its new website: COVID-19: Temporary pandemic pay. The website, in addition to containing information previously announced by the government on April 25, 2020, provides additional details on how eligible frontline and support workers are to be paid and how temporary pandemic pay affects items such as base salaries, benefits, and pensions.

As discussed in our previous Focus Alert, there are two kinds of temporary pandemic pay available for eligible frontline and support workers:

  • a $4.00/hour top-up to existing regular wages for a 16-week period from April 24, 2020 until August 13, 2020; and
  • a monthly lump sum payment of $250 for eligible workers who work at least 100 hours in each designated four-week period.

The government has clarified that the designated 4-week periods for the additional lump sum payment are:

  • April 24, 2020 to May 21, 2020
  • May 22, 2020 to June 18, 2020
  • June 19, 2020 to July 16, 2020
  • July 17, 2020 to August 13, 2020

Temporary pandemic pay is available to eligible workers in the health care, long-term care and retirement homes sectors, the social services sector, and the correctional sector. The government’s website contains a detailed list of eligible workplaces in addition to eligible workers within these sectors.

The website also provides that eligible employees will receive the temporary hourly pandemic pay directly from their employer, but that the government is still working out how the lump-sum payments will be made. The government states that it will contact eligible employers by May 15, 2020, and that employers are not being asked to apply for temporary pandemic pay.

The government’s website also clarifies that temporary pandemic pay (both the hourly increase and monthly lump sum payments) is not to be considered pensionable earnings or part of an employee’s base salary and has no impact on benefits paid by employers.  Additionally, the $4.00 hourly top-up and lump-sum payment eligibility only apply to hours actually worked. An eligible employee is not entitled to receive temporary pandemic pay when absent from the workplace for any reason, including vacation, any authorized paid leave (including sick leave), and time and/or benefits awarded under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

 

In Our View

While the government’s temporary pandemic pay website provides some additional information on the nature of the payment many details still need to be confirmed including how the payments are to be made. Employers should, therefore, wait until they receive further instructions from the government as to how to administer these payments.  Payments will be made retroactive to April 24, 2020. The government has also indicated that its website will be updated with new information as it becomes available. We will continue to provide updates on any new developments.

It should also be noted that the Ontario government enacted emergency Order O. Reg. 195/20 on May 1, 2020, which temporarily suspends certain provisions of the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019 (Bill 124) and sets out replacement provisions that are in effect only during the temporary suspension period.  Bill 124, which has been in force since November 8, 2019,  limits compensation increases to both unionized and non-unionized employees in the Ontario public service and broader public sector. The temporary replacement provisions under the Order specifically exclude from Bill 124’s one percent limit on compensation increases “any temporary COVID-19 related payments received by employees in relation to work performed during the temporary suspension period” in those workplaces or in relation to types of work specifically set out under the Order.

For further information, please contact J.D. Sharp at 613-940-2739, Vicky Satta at 613-940-2753, Porter Heffernan at 613-940-2764, André Champagne at 613-940-2735, Lynn Harnden at 613-940-2731, Sébastien Huard at 613-940-2744 or Raquel Chisholm at 613-940-2755.