Thursday August 13, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC
[Updated August 18 with link to Aug 17 presentation to the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association]
by Mary Brooke, editor | West Shore Voice News
Employers who have temporarily laid off employees during the COVID-19 pandemic in BC have until August 30, 2020 to apply for an extension.
The repeated reminder was the key message of an announcement today by BC Labour Minister Harry Bains. He wants to ensure that no business is unaware of the process and the deadline.
Bains advised that businesses try to interact with the easy online interface by August 25 to help avoid a last-minute crunch for them and for government employees who will be processing the applications (another 70 employees have been hired to attend to the expected surge).
Up until the August 30, 2020 deadline, employees must also indicate whether they want to remain on temporary layoff or instead accept a severance payment or package.
Realizing the value of employees:
Bains hopes that businesses will also realize that they can avoid costly severance packages if they keep employees on temporary layoff, especially if they have plans to reopen or further expand their businesses later on.
Extending the temporary layoff is a way “keep the connection between employer and employees”, emphasizing that “these are the workers who helped you build your business”.
The temporary layoff variance process is intended to maintain ongoing relationships between businesses and their employees. This can ensure faster startups when a business is ready to resume operations.
“You need their skills and experience,” said Bains, stressing that employers are going to need employees “back on the job to provide services that customers need”.
Businesses requiring an extension should apply for a variance using the Employment Standards Branch’s new online application by Aug. 25.
“While more and more businesses are reopening, we know there are still some businesses that won’t be able to recall staff back to work by the end of August,” said Bains. “This new variance process will help maintain the link between employers and workers, so that when businesses are able to scale up their reopening, they have the skilled and experienced workers ready to resume their jobs – but only if the deadline is not missed.”
The number of unemployed, lots in tourism & hospitality:
The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact saw about 350,000 people losing their jobs. One of the most impacted sectors was tourism, with a subset being restaurants, hotels and the overall hospitality industry.
When the economy started reopening in Phase 2, the number of unemployed in BC reduced to about 250,000 but that is still a large number of people.
Bains said today that most employees in the tourism, hotels and hospitality sector are not unionized, and therefore not protected by any collective agreements.
While the Employment Standards Branch has no way of knowing how many out-of-work employees in BC have been permanently terminated versus how many are on temporary layoff, they will have some idea — after the August 30 layoff extension deadline — as to how many are within the official extension process.
Timeline of the temporary layoff program:
The temporary layoff process was set for 13 to 16 weeks, then extended again at the end of June to August 30, 2020. That has provided in total a 24-week period, Bains emphasized today, indicating a significant turning point but with government providing the next steps.
Under B.C.’s Employment Standards Act, temporary layoffs related to COVID-19 can last up to 24 weeks, or until August 30, before the layoff becomes permanent.
Last month, the Ministry of Labour launched a simplified variance application process to help businesses navigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic more easily. The redesigned process replaces paper-based applications, allows all documents to be sent by email and reduces the burden on employers and employees by providing the templates and tools needed to apply.
Employers must know where employees stand:
In order to receive a variance, an employer must survey employees eligible for an extension to their temporary layoff and the business must ensure it has more than 50% support before applying.
Employers are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. An application deadline is set for August 25 for employees and employers to jointly apply for an extension, to ensure that all applications will be processed by the August 30 expiry date.
Bains awaits a report with recommendations, which he will review for ideas and suggestions moving forward. To prepare that report, Minister Bains today today that he has appointed Sandra Banister, QC to consult with all stakeholders in this layoff and reemployment process.
That is to include speaking with employees, businesses and associations as well as the seven unions in the hotel industry where most venues have shut down. That report is due to Bains by August 20.
===== Learn More:
Demonstration of the process to apply for a temporary layoff variance presented to the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce by the Ministry of Labour: https://youtu.be/SrRv8XykBAM
Updated website for temporary layoff variance applications: www.gov.bc.ca/covidlayoffs
Information on employment standards around temporary layoffs: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/employment-standards-advice/employment-standards/hours/variances
Temporary layoffs application extended to August 25 (West Shore Voice News, August 5, 2020)