Canada Emergency Response Benefit: A Primer

Topic: Employment and Labour Law March 27, 2020 by Chris Rutherford & Josef Gallant

Governments at all levels are scrambling to develop and implement benefit programs to help Canadians offset financial hardships in the wake of COVID-19.  With information coming in flurries of news conferences and press releases, it can be difficult to make sense of what programs are available and how to access them. This brief article aims to unpack the Federal Government’s newly announced Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) so that it is easier to understand how it may or may not apply to you.

Importantly, the CERB was announced as a replacement of two previously announced benefits – the Emergency Care Benefit, and the Emergency Support Benefit. EI applicants will also be directed to CERB (the two have been integrated, so as to streamline applications). Set to become available on April 6th, the CERB aims to roll these two previously announced benefits into a simpler and more accessible benefit package.

The CERB will provide financial assistance to Canadians who have lost their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic for up to four months, covering the period from March 15 – October 3, 2020.

For workers who have lost their jobs due to, illness, quarantine, or family responsibilities related to COVID-19, the CERB would be available to provide financial assistance up to a maximum of $2,000 per month. Additionally, contract workers and self-employed individuals who are not otherwise eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) could apply for the CERB.

Workers who are still employed but are not receiving income because of disruptions in their employment relating to COVID-19 could also qualify for the CERB.

However, it is important to note that this does not permit employers to suddenly cease payments to their employees. Employers doing so would face a claim of constructive dismissal from the employee. Employers who are unable to pay their employees will need to still review their options, including temporary lay-offs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented stress on the EI system due to the high volume of applications. The CERB is designed to alleviate this pressure and streamline benefits so that those seeking financial aid will not have to wait unreasonable amounts of time. Canadians already receiving EI should not apply to CERB, nor should those who have already filed for EI but whose claim has not been processed yet. Those who are EI eligible but have not yet filed an EI claim should apply for the CERB rather than EI once it becomes available.

The Federal Government hopes to have the CERB portal operational by April 6th, 2020, and aims for applicants to receive payments within 10 days of applying. If eligible, applicants would receive a payment every 4 weeks from March 15, 2020 until October 3, 2020.

Please remember to wash your hands, practice physical distancing, and stay safe! Continue to check back with LMR for updates on how various responses to the COVID-19 pandemic may affect you.