Canada is a hub of progression and innovation and is heralded globally as the ‘start-up mecca to rival Silicon Valley’. Its low corporate tax, strong economy and highly educated workforce mean that employing in Canada is incredibly attractive for many businesses.

However, as is the case with employing just about everywhere in the world right now, companies have had to reframe their understanding of what it’s like to run a business in the shadow of COVID-19. And although it feels like we could be nearing the end of the pandemic, the Canadian authorities have introduced several new laws and regulations in the last two years that are likely to stick around for good.

So, what do employers need to be aware of when expanding into Canada at a time of uncertainty and regular legislative change? And with a more permanent shift in what employees expect from their employers, how can you plan for the future to stay in line with both the rules and new perceptions?

A regulatory response

Canada is comprised of 10 provinces, each of which has its own set of legislation. This regulatory structure meant that throughout the pandemic, each province implemented its own regional laws around COVID-19 — some with an expiry date and some that are more permanent.

Temporary changes

It’s nearly impossible to predict what the future looks like regarding COVID-19, and many of the new laws passed during the peak of COVID-19 have already been repealed. In March 2021, the state abolished the extension to Canada’s temporary lay-off period. This extension gave employers more time to recall employees if they’d been laid off due to COVID-19. Businesses in Alberta were automatically enrolled in the province’s own COVID passport programme, but this ceased to exist on 9 February 2022 in light of consistently low infection rates.

Although still in force, a handful of employee benefits are also coming to an end on 7 May 2022. For example, eligible workers who are unable to work due to any local lockdowns can claim $300 per week under The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, and workers can claim $500 per week for six weeks if they’re unable to work due to contracting or being vulnerable to COVID-19. And if an employee is unable to work because they have to care for a child or family member due to COVID-19, they’re entitled to 44 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave — also ending on 7 May.

Permanent measure

One of the most notable permanent changes was to the Alberta Employment Standards Code. In March 2020, the code was amended to allow employees to isolate for 14 days if they showed symptoms of COVID-19 or were caring for someone with symptoms – without having to show a medical certificate to their employer. Unlike other job-protected leaves granted under the code, employees don’t have to have been employed for 90 days to be eligible for this leave.

A nationwide response to COVID-19 also came into force in March 2020 in the form of the ‘COVID-19 Emergency Response Act’, which authorised income support payments for workers who suffered a loss of income for COVID-related reasons, amongst other amendments.

As of 1 January 2022, British Colombia increased employees’ entitlement to paid COVID-related sick leave from three to five days for employees with at least 90 consecutive days of employment. Similar to Alberta, employees wishing to take paid absence for reasons related to COVID-19 don’t have to provide a doctor’s note to be eligible.

A permanent shift in perceptions

When Canada’s COVID response laws come to an end, employers won’t simply be able to go back to the way things were. Employees will have settled into a more compassionate approach to taking sick leave and become used to flexible working patterns, meaning it’ll be challenging to change their perceptions.

So, although some of the laws may be only temporary, their impact on employees and the overarching working landscape are likely to be more permanent. Regardless of whether a rule is mandated by the state or simply deemed necessary due to employees’ renewed expectations, employers will need to answer critical questions about how they approach their employees’ health and wellbeing going forward.

For example, with health at the forefront of everyone’s minds, employees may begin expecting health insurance as part of their standard benefits package. Is this something you can afford to offer?

Equally, what will your stance be on sick leave? Many people now feel uncomfortable at the thought of sitting in an office with someone who’s feeling under the weather (plus, you don’t want to risk wiping out your workforce). But if businesses want to ensure staff stay away from the office when unwell — even if they’ve ‘just got a cold’ — they’ll need to provide adequate sick pay or allow staff employees to work remotely instead.

And if your employees are working from home full-time, how do you ensure their wellbeing with so much less face-time? Will you need to provide tracked timesheets to make sure your employees aren’t working over the legal limit in this flexible working culture?

Stepping up to the challenge

This shift in thought patterns can be applied to employees all over the world — not just Canada. If you’re employing in multiple countries with dozens of remote or in-office teams, navigating COVID-19’s impact on employee expectations poses even more of a challenge as every country is coming out of the pandemic differently and at a different time. Then there’s the question of standardisation: how do you ensure your approach in one location is consistent in others?

The world of work is never going to be the same again. Employers have a more significant duty of care than ever before and more obligations to meet — whether compulsory or simply expected.

But those employers that adapt and surpass employee expectations will surely have their pick of the best talent going forward, so it’s essential to move with the changing landscape and answer those tough questions to carve out a plan of action.

Ever-changing COVID-related legislation shouldn’t deter you from expanding into locations with so much opportunity. Enlist the in-country expertise of a global employer of record (EOR) like TopSource Worldwide to make expanding into Canada enjoyable and hassle-free. Get started today.

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Published On: 16/02/22Last Updated: 14/09/22

About the Author: Sam Barnes

Sam is our Global Business Development Manager for Employer of Record services. For the last 10 years, he has assisted companies in the successful execution of their international expansion plans. Sam tells us “There’s something inherently exciting about growing a business into overseas jurisdictions. Each country does things slightly differently and it’s great to be able to share learnings on statutory requirements and cultural nuances”. Email: sam.barnes@topsourceworldwide.com

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