As the business community in Ottawa endures the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the primary concerns for businesses today is how they manage issues relating to employees.
Colleen Hoey is a partner with Mann Lawyers LLP and the head of its Employment Law Group. Since the start of the pandemic, Hoey has been regularly answering important questions about the issues facing employers in light of COVID-19.
Mann Lawyers LLP also has a dedicated website that provides up-to-date and important information about a broad range of legal issues relating to COVID-19, including in the areas of corporate law, civil litigation, employment and labour law, family law, bankruptcy/insolvency law, real estate, and wills/estates law. The Mann Lawyers LLP COVID-19 website can be found here.
We are starting to see graduates from La Cité leave their mark in the agri-food sector, thanks to a more recent agriculture training programs.
Q: These are certainly unprecedented times we are in. Can you describe the impact that COVID-19 is having on your clients, and what you are hearing from the business community?
A: The primary impact that we are seeing in the marketplace right now is uncertainty. We have many clients who are being adversely impacted by the measures implemented to combat COVID-19, and most of our time now is spent helping clients as they deal with the short term and plan for the medium and long term. I have to say though, much of what I’m hearing from the market is uncertainty as to how COVID-19 is ultimately going to impact their businesses in the medium and long term.
Q: You mentioned short terms issues. What is the biggest issue your clients are facing right now?
A: Many clients are transitioning to a reduced workforce as they operate in this new reality and they have questions about the different federal programs such as the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy as well as the ability to place their staff on temporary layoffs. While our employment legislation allows employers to temporarily lay off employees under certain conditions, employers need to be careful that they do it correctly. Otherwise, they can be deemed to have constructively dismissed the employees. There may be ways for companies to protect themselves, and I find this is the most pressing short-term issue being faced by my corporate clients right now.
Q: What do you recommend your clients do to protect themselves?
A: It really depends on the specific circumstances of each client, but generally we want to see our clients keep careful records about why they are making the decision to make temporary layoffs. We also suggest that clients ask the employees if they will consent to being temporarily laid off. Often employees will consent because they understand the pressures on the business, and they may see that it is necessary to protect their opportunity to return to work at a later date.
We also recommend that employers look at providing something of value in exchange for employees who agree to be temporarily laid off. This can be anything from a top-up arrangement, benefit extension or other payment. The most important thing to do however, is to be mindful of your timelines. There is a limit to how long an employee can be temporarily laid off and employers who have temporarily laid off employees in the last few weeks will need to be ready for what comes next, in many cases, in May or June.
Q: Lastly, how has COVID-19 impacted your firm?
A: We have faced many of the same issues that our clients have faced in moving some of our employees to work remotely where they can. We have worked really hard to ensure that we remain open and fully serving our clients. We have also put together a great resource for anyone who is interested. We have a COVID-19 information page on our website with blogs and other information responding to the most common questions we are receiving from clients in all practice areas.