COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

We’re answering our members’ frequently asked questions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. This page will continue to be updated as more information and questions come in. If you have a question not answered here, please get in touch with us at member.support@onpha.org.

Disclaimer: This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion. You should not assume the information provided herein will be suitable for the purposes you have in mind for your particular concern, problem or circumstance, and you should consult a lawyer and/or other appropriate advisor for specific advice. You should not rely on the information provided by ONPHA as an alternative to legal advice from a professional. This information provided by ONPHA is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied. ONPHA does not warrant the quality, accuracy or completeness of any information provided. ONPHA is not liable for inaccuracies in any resources provided.

Managing social distancing and self-isolation in community housing

Q - What can housing providers do to enforce self-isolation and social distancing practices among tenants? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Directives for the self-isolation of certain individuals are given by public health authorities and, in specific cases like long-term care homes, mandated by specific legislation mandating health and safety. The role of community housing providers is to provide information and encourage tenants to follow directives. Community housing providers are encouraged to put out signage in common spaces to ensure tenants have access to accurate information about preventing the spread of the virus. The following list could be shared with tenants by posting across shared space in buildings, elevators and playgrounds and/or electronically if you have an e-mail listserv or website for your building:

Providers can also encourage best practices for social distancing and self-isolation in their buildings by

  • Closing non-essential shared spaces such as recreation rooms and playgrounds and discourage use by removing any furniture
  • Encouraging tenants who are self-isolating or otherwise high-risk and not symptomatic, to receive any visitors bringing food, medications and other critical supplies at the door to the building
  • Encouraging guests to maintain safe social distancing when visiting self-isolating and/or high-risk tenants, and, if possible, to visit them in outdoor spaces
  • Creating guidelines for the use of essential common spaces (e.g. signage recommending limits on the number of users at a time in laundry room, garbage facilities or elevators, putting in place new sanitizing practices in shared spaces)
  • Sharing self-isolation and social distancing directives and resources to tenants through regular communications.

– Are superintendents required to self- isolate? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A– Superintendents are no different than anyone else, if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or are known to have it, have had close contact with a person who is ill with the virus, or have recently returned from travel outside of Canada they should self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

To prepare for this possibility you should refer to the COVID-19 web page on the ONPHA website. There you will find a link to the InfoON on Pandemic Planning which outlines how to identify the services that are critical for you to continue providing and how to develop a plan to ensure they are done in the event that one of you staff (such as your superintendent) is no longer able to perform their job. You will also find a link to Public Health Ontario’s guide to Self-Isolating.

The best course of action is to have all your staff practice social distancing to minimize the risk that they will get ill and not be able to perform their duties. For tips on practicing physical distancing see Toronto Public Health.

Q – Are friends allowed in apartments subject to social distancing requirements? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A – Community Housing Providers should be encouraging their tenants and staff to be practicing social distancing. Check out Toronto Public Health for suggestions on how to do this. While, at this point you cannot prohibit your tenants from having guests you should discourage it and emphasize the importance of their practicing social distancing and good hygiene including proper hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces. As this is a rapidly evolving situation, monitor your local public health authorities’ website for specific directions for your community.

Q – Can housing providers restrict access to common areas such as common rooms? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A – Housing providers should consider prohibiting the use of common rooms unless they are confident that the use would be consistent with the requirements to practice social distancing. How to deal with other common areas in your buildings is more difficult. For example, laundry rooms are included in the province’s list of essential services. Therefore, while shutting them down may not be an option you should consider implementing measures to support good hygiene and social distancing. If possible shut down every other machine so people will be more spread out and have staff disinfect machines and counter areas more frequently. The same approach could be used with elevators. Post signs encouraging tenants to limit the number of people who ride in the elevator. For example in an elevator that normally can handle 8 people you might want to recommend no more than 3 so people can maintain a safe distance between one another. Also, as was the case with the laundry room have staff increase the frequency of cleaning especially disinfecting the surfaces people frequently touch. As this is a rapidly evolving situation, monitor your local public health authorities’ website for specific directions for your community.

Q- What happens if public health advises me that my whole building needs to be quarantined? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A- As a landlord, you will need to be prepared if your public health authority gets involved and a forced isolation or quarantine order is issued for your building.

Housing providers would receive and must follow the directions provided by public health.

Helpful resources can be found here:

Q - Do providers have the right to restrict self-isolating tenants from being in the building (outside of their units) or from receiving visitors? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Providers do not have the right to enforce restrictions on the movements of tenants in the building. If a provider becomes aware that a tenant is under Canada’s new mandatory self-isolation period for travelers and may not respecting the guidelines, they should contact their local public health authority for guidance. The new directive, under the Quarantine Act, requires any person entering Canada by air, sea or land to self-isolate (quarantine) for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19. The directive, which excludes certain essential workers, came into effect at midnight on March 26, 2020 and only applies to travelers arriving from outside Canada after that date. The Government of Canada is responsible for ensuring compliance and landlords do not have the legal right to enforce the order themselves. For tenants who are self-isolating by choice and not by law, providers can encourage tenants in adopting best practices for self-isolation, but cannot force them to self-isolate. Consider whether tenants who are self-isolating may be vulnerable to other factors affecting health and well-being, such as food insecurity, social isolation and/or additional service needs. The better supported tenants are in their homes, the more likely they are to stay there.

As a community housing provider, you can reach out over the phone to any potentially vulnerable tenants and ask them about any challenges they might be experiencing, what supports they have in place, including any services that might have been interrupted at this time. You can connect tenants to any local health and social service providers (e.g. food security programs, Ontario Health Teams, mental health and addictions support workers). Some providers have also been successful in mobilizing their tenant community by encouraging the building residents to check in remotely with neighbours and offer help where possible.

The following resource from Windor Essex Community Housing Corporation offers Guidelines for Food Distribution for providers wishing to initiate a food security program in their building.

Managing high risk situations

Q - One of my tenants is at high risk of COVID-19, displaying symptoms, or has a diagnosis. Can I notify other tenants that they are at risk or that another tenant is self-isolating? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Providers should not be sharing tenant’s personal health information, including their health risk factors (e.g. age or underlying conditions), symptoms, or diagnosis as this would be a violation of laws protecting the tenant’s human rights and right to the privacy of their medical information. There is equally a concern around putting a notice up that there is a tenant self-isolating as it may violate the tenant’s rights to the protection of privacy of personal health information. As this is an evolving issue, ONPHA recommends you retain legal counsel on this matter.
Q - Do providers have the right to ask questions about tenant or visitors’ health, recent travel history or contact with other people who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

 A - Providers may implement screening questions asking about risk factors including symptoms, exposure risks and travel history for the purposes of providing services, such as processing rent payments or addressing critical maintenance issues. This information should be used for the purpose of assessing the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) and any special protocols (e.g. deferring non-critical maintenance requests) in place.

Using a tenant or visitor information to limit tenancy rights runs a potential risk of violating the tenants’ human rights. Providers should consult with their own legal counsel in assessing the legality and risks of any measure they are looking to take that comes out of a disclosure of health information.

Providers should be highly sensitive to the privacy of any information disclosed by the tenant (for more detail on privacy, refer to our previous question: One of my tenants is at high risk of COVID-19, displaying symptoms, or has a diagnosis. Can I notify other tenants that they are at risk or that another tenant is self-isolating?)

Providers should equally be mindful that tenants or individuals do not disclose information to the providers that should be reported to public health, and should train staff to provide the necessary contact information for your local public health authority.

Q - How should providers handle the garbage of a tenant who has the virus or is concerned that they might have been in contact with someone else who does? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - You should check with your local health authority on specific instructions based on the situation in your building, as they will have up-to-date information on the transmission of the virus and should be able to share protocols on safe disposal. As an employer, you must assess the risk of being infected while working and job tasks that may lead to exposure. This will determine the types of personal protection equipment (PPE) staff may be required to use during the COVID-19 outbreak, such as gloves and masks. At minimum, staff and any third party providers involved in the disposal of trash should be practicing safe social distancing from tenants, one another and hand hygiene protocols.

Business continuity and operations during COVID-19

Q - Our local public health authority has issued an order for mandatory face coverings in public spaces. Does this apply to us? How do we implement this policy? [Updated 7/27/2020]

A- Mandatory mask directives are a quickly emerging issue for ONPHA’s membership and vary by jurisdiction based on a number of factors, including the rates of infection and/or transmission in the community. In some jurisdictions, the use of masks in many indoor public spaces and on public transit is now mandatory. In addition, new guidance for the community housing sector from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) recommends the use of non-medical face coverings or masks as an additional measure for COVID-19 source control, particularly if a distance of two metres cannot be maintained, as it helps protect other individuals from exposure to the respiratory droplets of the person wearing the mask.

Public health units across Ontario have applied new directives requiring that people wear masks in public spaces, including businesses and organizations permitted to open under the emergency orders. Some public health authorities have exempted apartment buildings from what is considered public space, although in some cases have provided additional guidance for commercial and residential buildings. Other local governments have not specified exemptions for multi-unit residential buildings: if this is the case, contact your local public health unit to check whether the directives apply in common areas of your building such as laundry rooms, elevators and lobbies.

Follow this list of best practices if your building is subject to a mandatory order, or you want to put in place a building policy to make masks mandatory in common spaces:

  • Apply your policy to both staff and residents in public spaces and consider making masks mandatory for staff visiting tenants’ units and in situations when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • While your policy does not need to apply to staff-only spaces (e.g. break rooms), you may wish to have staff wearing masks in proximity to one another, depending on your operational needs. For more information on ONPHA’s new resource on returning to work for more on this topic.)
  • Include requirements that staff post signage about mandatory mask use in public areas.
  • Include clear exemptions for the requirements in your policy, including: young children and people with medical conditions and/or disabilities that prevent them from being able to safely wear a mask and provide exemptions for people to temporarily remove their mask (e.g. for eating and drinking.)
  • Operate your policy in “good faith”. This means that no one should be asked to provide proof of their exemption and those not wearing a mask should be provided with verbal reminders and public-facing signage only.
  • Provide staff and tenant education on the proper use, cleaning and disposal of non-medical masks and face coverings to promote infection prevention and control in your buildings. There are some resources listed below that you can use for this purpose.

Remember: providers do not have the legal right to enforce public health directives, including mandatory mask directives. ONPHA’s membership has reported a great deal of success with an education-first approach to informing tenants and visitors about new requirements and highlighted the importance of proactive communication and publicly accessible signage. If you are concerned about a serious safety issue regarding a tenant or visitor’s non-compliance with the directives, reach out to your public health unit directly and/or contact your local by-law enforcement division if necessary.

There are several guidelines on proper mask use (as well as infection control, cleaning, etc.) that you may wish to draw on from the provincial Guidance Material for the Community Housing sector and Public Health Ontario’s Guidelines on COVID-19 Prevention and Preparedness in Congregate Living Settings and from the City of Toronto’s additional guidance on face mask and coverings and education for the public. You should check back with your local health unit frequently to ensure the guidance is consistent with their directives.

Additional resources

Q – Do construction activities have to stop as a result of the pandemic? [Updated 5/15/2020]

A - On May 6, 2020, the government of Ontario announced an easing of restrictions on retail stores and essential construction during COVID-19. This announcement included that effective May 11, 2020, 12:01 am, the government would expand essential construction to allow below-grade multi-unit residential construction projects like apartments and condominiums to begin and existing above-grade projects to continue. It also required that public health measures and appropriate workplace safety guidelines be followed. This was followed by a subsequent announcement on May 14, 2020, that provided that effective Tuesday May 19 at 12:01 am, the “essential workplace” limits on construction would be lifted. This means that all construction activities may be resumed but again with the requirement that public health measures and appropriate workplace safety guidelines are adhered to.

Q - Should we be postponing regularly scheduled fire inspections? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A – Housing providers must continue to fulfill their obligations under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act and proceed with any scheduled inspections of fire life safety equipment.

During this period of self-isolation it is important to remind tenants about fire safety.

Here are some helpful reminders you can share:

  • Do not put burning material such as cigarettes and ashes into the garbage or garbage chutes.
  • Avoid unsafe cooking practices (deep fat frying, too much heat, unattended stove, wearing loose fitting clothing, etc.).
  • Do not use unsafe electrical appliances, frayed extension cords, over-loaded outlets and improper use of power bars, or extension cords for permanent wiring.
    • Avoid careless smoking:
    • Use deep ashtrays.
    • Never smoke in bed.
    • Ensure cigarette butts are out.
    • Do not discard smoker’s materials from decks/balconies or windows.
    • Thoroughly wet prior to disposing of smoker’s materials in garbage cans.

  • Never leave candles unattended; use candle holders that have a glass cylinder which covers the flame.
  • Keep hallways, stairwells, passageways and exits clear of obstructions, (i.e. wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, and bicycles) combustible refuse, and other items at all times.
  • Always keep laundry, furnace and electrical rooms/panels clear of combustible materials.
  • Always clean out clothes dryer lint collector before and after each use.
  • Test your carbon monoxide alarm(s) monthly (where installed). If the carbon monoxide alarm(s) does not operate, or is not mounted as intended, report it to the property management immediately for repair.
  • Practice a fire escape plan, if you don’t have one – develop one!

ONPHA continues to monitor COVID-19 developments and their potential impact on the operations of our members. Please check the ONPHA COVID-19 webpage regularly for updates.

Q - How should providers handle unit turnover, including upcoming move-in or move-out dates? [Updated 4/17/20]

A - While providers have some discretion around their procedures for unit turnovers, you should consult with you Service Manager to ensure any new procedures are compliant with the Service Manager’s funding requirements. Ensure your business continuity plan is updated with your procedures to manage new occupancies of empty units, move-outs, and the signature of new leases in occupied units.

Some options available to providers in revising their unit turnover procedures:

  • Limit lease viewings to empty units only, with new protocols in place to maximize health and safety including sanitation and social distancing;
  • Prepare vacant units for rental in the future but halt new move-ins entirely;
  • Allow tenants to select an occupied unit sight unseen to support social distancing through online rental listing tools. Check with your Service Manager to confirm if you can exempt these selections from tenants’ first refusal of offer permitted by the new RGI regulations;
  • Implement electronic protocols and/or tools to allow new tenants to sign leases and pay rent remotely;
  • Implement move-in/move-out protocols that ensure the unit can be thoroughly cleaned between tenants and that appropriate social distancing measures are followed during the move;
  • Limit any maintenance and repairs to the unit between tenants to critical issues only in order to comply with the new Provincial restrictions on non-essential services. ONPHA strongly encourages organizations to review the new list of essential services in its entirety to see how these changes apply to them specifically and/or to call the Stop the Spread hotline at 1-888-444- 3659, open 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:30 a.m.— 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. We also encourage organizations to seek their own legal opinion on the interpretation of essential services.

Prior to moving day, you should:

  • Ensure any scheduled movers or third party vendors are still operating on the planned move day. While moving services are included in Ontario’s list of essential services, many companies have modified or ceased operations temporarily due to the pandemic.
  • Ensure that the movers and any other third parties who enter the unit are following health and safety protocol recommended by local public health with regard to the use of diligent hand hygiene and social distancing. You may also wish to implement a screening checklist for any vendors entering the building.
Q - Can providers ask tenants to help with cleaning in common areas of the building? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Generally, it is not advisable to delegate tasks to tenants that should be staff responsibilities, as providers do not have the oversight, accountabilities and protections under the Employment Standards Act to ensure protocols are being followed.

However, in some cases providers may wish to provide cleaning supplies and instructions for tenants to use in support of the building’s cleaning protocols (e.g. wiping down a laundry machine after use.)

Providers should consult with their local public health authority in making a determination about what minimum cleaning protocols need to be maintained by staff. In cases where staff are unable to perform duties due to illness, self-isolation measures or other issues, providers should identify third party providers (i.e. cleaning services) who can support the building in meeting minimum standards. If a provider does bring in third party services, it is critical to train vendors on your building’s cleaning standards as well as protocols for social distancing and hand hygiene.

Q – Are housing providers considered to be an essential service? [Posted 4/17/20]

A - Community housing providers were not included in the additional business closures announced by the provincial government on Friday, April 3. The new guidelines issued by the government provide that critical management, safety, security and essential operations staff at residential properties may continue to work. The new guidelines also reference “Maintenance, repair and property management services …to manage and maintain the safety, security, sanitation and essential operation of … residential properties and buildings” (#20) and “not-for profit organizations that support … food, shelter, safety or protection, and or social services and other necessities …” (#44) as essential.

ONPHA sought a legal opinion on these changes with respect to the non-profit housing sector. We were advised our interpretation of appropriate activities is reasonable. We strongly encourage organizations to review the list in its entirety to see how these changes apply to them specifically. We also encourage organizations to seek their own legal opinion on the interpretation of essential services.

ONPHA will continue to work to seek further clarification from provincial staff but we recommend providers contact the Provincial Hotline if they have any questions.

Rent Payments and Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI)

Q - Does the new rent freeze legislation for 2021 apply to rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units? [Posted 10/14/2020]

A - Yes. On October 1, Bill 204 received Royal Assent, freezing residential rent increases for 2021. For greater clarity, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing recently shared a Q&A guidance document on the 2021 rent freeze, including specific guidance for the community housing sector (beginning on page 7). The document clarifies that the rent freeze applies to both market and RGI households living in community housing.

While providers are required to continue decreasing RGI rents for households that experience a decrease in income, no increases can come into effect for 2021, even if a household’s income increases or if a household becomes ineligible for RGI assistance.

Service Managers and housing providers will still be required to conduct annual reviews and in-year rent recalculations in 2021. However, any calculated rent increase resulting from an annual or in-year review would not take effect in 2021.

You can find more information on how the rent freeze applies to RGI units in the Q&A document, plus background information on the rent freeze in our blogpost.

Q - Is income earned through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) exempt when calculating rent-geared-to-income (RGI)? [Posted 5/6/2020]

A - The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in their most recent Social Housing Notification 20-05 has clarified that the following new emergency benefits are considered income and included for the purposes of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) calculations:

  • Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
  • Canada Emergency Student Benefit (except where exempted for full-time students under the Housing Services Act, 2011)
  • the temporary doubling of the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payments

Service managers can use their discretion under the Housing Services Act, 2011 to develop internal processes to treat the change of income resulting from the receipt of emergency financial assistance. These may include:

  • extending the reporting requirements for changes in income
  • delaying the change until the next annual review
  • only implementing changes as a result of a decrease income
  • deferring or forgiving all or part of the rent

Housing providers should follow the direction of their service manager in the treatment of these emergency payments.

Q - How should staff be handling rent processing, especially for tenants who pay by cash or cheque, while under this mandate of social distancing? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A – For the safety for all and according to the guidelines issued by public health, here are some suggestions:

  • Ask tenants to limit visits to the office and communicate by phone or email, whenever possible.
  • Consider reducing open office hours.
  • Consider limiting visitors to the office and ask them to maintain a minimum distance of 2 meters.
  • Encourage tenants to provide post-dated cheques or sign up for alternative online payment methods if their current method of rent payment is cash or debit.
  • Set up a locked drop box and encourage tenants to submit documents and payments there.
  • Ensure that staff who handle documents, cash and cheques are following health and safety protocol recommended by local public health with regard to the use of diligent hand hygiene.

Q - What do I do if my tenants report they have been laid off or had their hours reduced? [UPDATED: 3/31/20]

A - Many tenants may face reduced hours or layoffs during this time. Community housing providers are encouraged to act with compassion when responding to these circumstances:

  • Be proactive and communicate with tenants through all available channels on how tenants can report changes to their income (e.g. by phone, email or in writing). Don’t wait to send out annual review packages.
  • Reduce the rent for RGI tenants affected by reduced hours or layoffs on the 1st day of the month following the change in income (best practice is the receipt of last pay). NOTE: Service Managers may provide specific instructions around how to address RGI calculations in the current situation, so make sure to check with them for the most up-to-date information.
  • Ask your Service Manager for direction on how to approach RGI recalculations if your organization does not have the capacity to perform this work under your current operational protocol (e.g. staff working remotely without access to tools.) Update your organization’s business continuity plan to reflect these priorities.
  • Be reasonable and flexible with follow up efforts regarding verification documents such as Records of Employment (ROE) and letters from employers. Check with your Service Manager to confirm if emails from employers are acceptable.
  • If tenants are not able to pay their rent in full, ask them to pay what they can towards their rent and agree to a payment plan.
  • Refer tenants to available federal and provincial supports, including Employment Insurance, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (application launching in early April), Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (see below for more information).
  • Consider waiving non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees on cheques during the pandemic.
  • Consider halting rent increases on market rate tenants. Check with your Service Manager to see if you can offer RGI subsidies to market residents if you are under your RGI targets in order to meet Service Level Standards.
  • In light of the anticipated number of rent payment issues, consider redeploying staff capacity that would be allocated to the issuance of eviction notices and LTB hearings to support screening tenant calls related to rent payments and to develop strategies to extend compassion to tenants in financial need.
  • Given the federal government has been flooded with Employment Insurance (EI) applications and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will not be available until mid-April at the earliest, in addition to municipalities likely receiving large volumes of applications for Ontario Works (OW), housing providers should expect significant delays in tenants accessing these funding streams.
  • ONPHA will continue to update our members on information on application processes and eligibility criteria for income supports and benefits available to tenants in the days ahead.

Landlord and tenancy matters

Q - What changes have taken place at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) as a result of COVID-19? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A - The Province has announced the following measures to ensure community safety:

  • All front-line counter services at the LTB will be closed until further notice.
  • All incoming applications will continue to be processed. Hearings for matters not relating to evictions will proceed by the most appropriate means (telephone or written hearing) and orders for these matters will be issued.
  • All hearings related to eviction applications are suspended.
  • Eviction hearings will not be scheduled and eviction orders will not be issued unless the matter relates to an urgent issue such as an illegal act or serious impairment of safety.
  • There are also public health concerns around putting people out of their homes and when there is limited access to shelters. The Ministry of the Attorney General has been granted an order suspending the enforcement of residential evictions by the Sheriff's offices until further notice.
  • For more details click on the following links to view the news releases from the Landlord and Tenant Board and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Government subsidy and relief programs

Q- Are funds received through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program taxable for tax-exempt non-profit housing providers? [Updated 7/6/2020]

A- Likely no.

As long as the housing provider is using the wage subsidy for employee salaries related to the organization’s not-for-profit activities, it is unlikely CEWS payments would be taxable.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has indicated that emergency wage subsidies, including CEWS, are considered government assistance and accordingly, would be considered taxable income for an employer’s income calculation. However, tax-exempt organizations in the Income Tax Act (including non-profit organizations) would likely not need to pay tax on the subsidies, considering they do not pay taxes on taxable income.

To confirm your organization is eligible for CEWS and for any other related questions, see the CEWS contact webpage.

Q- Are non-profit housing providers eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program? [Updated 7/6/2020]

A- Likely yes, with some exceptions.

Most non-profit housing providers should be eligible for CEWS.

In order to be eligible for CEWS, an organization must be considered an “eligible entity.” Included among the eligible entities are tax-exempt organizations in the Income Tax Act, including non-profit organizations. Most non-profit housing providers should be considered eligible entities as tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

However, some tax-exempt non-profit housing providers may also fall under provisions in the Income Tax Act that are not considered eligible for CEWS. Ineligible housing providers would likely include:

  • Limited-dividend housing companies incorporated to construct, hold and manage a low-rental housing project, with payable dividends of 5% or less per year (this exclusion would not apply to most non-profit housing providers.)
  • Organizations that exclusively provide low-cost housing for seniors. Organizations providing other types of housing in addition to low-cost housing for seniors would likely still be considered eligible.

For more information on CEWS, including eligibility information for employers and employees, a subsidy calculator and application guide, see the CEWS webpage.



Member Questions from Enliven HR Webinar: Can your Organization Withstand a Pandemic?

Please note that this Q&A does not constitute legal advice and your organization’s own individual circumstances must be taken into account before acting. Please connect with your Human Resources provider or legal counsel to discuss your organization’s individual circumstances.

Regarding the Employment Standards Act (ESA), which was recently amended to include unpaid, job protected infectious disease emergency leave and waives the need for medical documentation, Enliven HR recommends waiving requirement for medical notes for other illnesses too (not COVID-19 related) so as to not tax the medical system. 

Regarding an employee being away due to COVID-19, quarantine, self-isolation or are at home because of school closure or day care closure, it is important to issue Record of Employment (ROE) immediately so Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits can kick in as soon as possible. Categorize the ROE code as “Sickness” for the above reasons.

  • Current employee handbooks may have specific details of each leave – if not, look at ESA website for details and how to navigate different types of leave – because leaves are changing frequently now to take into account COVID-19, it is helpful to look at the ESA website to navigate any changes.
Q - Who may deem a person(s) ill under extended ESA leaves?
A - A certified health care professional
Q - If someone gets COVID-19 and is off work for extended time, how do we handle this?
A -
  • Issue an ROE for sickness benefits (see above)
  • Look at short-term disability plans, which would be the first program to be utilized
  • Call your insurance company to make sure COVID-19 will be covered
Q - We may need to conduct a termination meeting via teleconference as the employee is working from home. Is this a practice that can be done?
A -
  • Yes, however, it is not a practice we would strongly recommend. If you can wait until the situation has subsided, that is recommended.
  • There are some considerations before terminating someone using this method that you will likely want to consider. Assess if the individual has a preexisting condition that you are aware of that would affect them adversely if you conducted the termination via videoconference. This would include things like mental health conditions and any medical conditions that may be exacerbated.
  • In addition, you should consider reviewing your policies on terminations, returning company property upon termination, technology and social media policies, confidentiality agreements and other types of policies that ensure you have the protections in place to protect reduce any potential liability.
  • As part of your off-boarding program, consider modifying your termination checklist to ensure you have the right protocols and processes in place when terminating individuals; regardless of whether it is via videoconferencing or in person. Checklists should be robust enough to be able to account for potential termination issues you may encounter; including removal of systems and technology, fiduciary responsibilities and other considerations.
Q - Should we be allowing people to work remotely? Not necessarily from their own home due to fear of being in a public place (for example a condo)?
A -
  • Remote working is the direction many organizations are moving towards as an essential service if they do have employees that can work off-site and continue to be productive. As long as people are safe and protecting themselves and the security of the organization, there should be flexibility where people are working right now.
  • Considerations should be made on the policies you have in place including reviewing your technology and social media policy, confidentiality policy, remote and flexible work policy, health and safety policies including ergonomics and reviewing what practices you have in place to engage with team members regularly.
Q - If this situation extends for months and someone is unable to work for an extended period of time due to schools closing, how do we handle this?
A -
  • Refer to ESA leaves above
  • Analyze the impact of layoffs on families when looking at employee list
Q - If a family member is sick and the employee needs to be off for an extended period of time, how do we handle this?
A -
Q - Do we have the right to lay off employees?
A -
  • If drafting layoff notice, ensure that you involve HR and/or legal counsel to limit potential risk and liability and ensure proper language in letters
  • Check existing offers of employment to determine if there are layoff provisions in the agreements
  • In addition, check the employee handbook and any policies that employees have signed to determine if there are layoff provisions detailed in your policies
  • If you have hourly paid employees or are unionized, layoffs are easier
  • It is more complicated to layoff salaried employees, as it will more deeply impact their salary and they will likely be above the threshold for the maximum allowable through EI
  • May open you up to constructive dismissal claims – getting advice before laying off employees is absolutely critical
  • Recommend including a clause in layoff letters that offer consideration including payment for employees with layoff notification in event that someone wants to claim constructive dismissal against employer
  • Recommend adjusting language in layoff notice including consideration and that it is not deemed termination of employment
Q - What if I want to reduce employee’s hours from FT to PT? What are our rights and obligations?
A -
  • If impacting more than 10% of pay, employee could claim potential constructive dismissal, as you are then essentially laying them off
  • Recommend speaking with employee to ask them how they want to proceed and explore available options, including using sick leave and/or vacation benefits
  • When laying off, you can ask employees if they want to use their vacation time first
  • See question above for same principles regarding layoff
Q - What happens if an employee in an essential service is coming to work and their spouse or family member is in quarantine?
A -
  • Send out communications to all employees with all potential circumstances of when they should stay home, including if they have a family member in quarantine/self-isolation, if they’ve been travelling in the past 14 days (i.e. for Manitoba this now includes travel outside of the Province)
  • Regarding the right to refuse unsafe work, ONPHA has posted workflow examples from Enliven HR for employees who refuse unsafe work that will help to avoid employees not following appropriate protocol to refuse unsafe work
Q - Can we ask employees to use vacation days while they are at home caring for their children during school closures?
A
  • You can talk to employees about this, but it is ultimately up to the employee to decide if they want to use those days
  • Depending on your policies, you may have the right to schedule vacation days for employees, however, consult with your human resources or legal counsel
  • You may not be able to force employees to use their vacation days depending on your policies
Q - For people who don’t qualify for EI, will employees have to completely exhaust their sick days if available? Do they also have to exhaust their accrued/available vacation?
A -
  • No clarity whether 13 weeks of consecutive employment requirement for EI will be waived – ONPHA will continue monitoring for further clarity and update members
  • New CERB benefit will cover those individuals who do not qualify for EI, however, an employee will have needed to earn more than $5,000.00 in the previous year to qualify
Q - What are best practices around termination and layoffs?
A -
  • Important for increased, clear communication with key messaging o Sample wording sent out to clients last night – ONPHA will share information with members
  • Get on the phone/video for temporary layoffs – then send email with layoff notice
Regarding the Work Sharing Program, there is a mandatory 30-day window in between the time the program is to start once approved, so applications should be done immediately.
  • Application needs to be approved by employee. It cannot be a unilateral decision by employer.
Q - If an employee voluntarily offers to modify and/or reduce their hours, do they qualify for EI or sick leave to top up their pay?
A -
  • EI only applies in a layoff position where the employee still works some hours for the employer, not if an employee voluntarily reduces their hours
  • In the former case, any hours the employee earns from the employer, the employee can keep 50% up to eligible amount, then $ for $ (up to $573/week gross)
  • Calculation can be tricky – connect in with Jodi for assistance: jzigelsteinyip@enlivenhr.ca
Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) Programs can be used to supplement employees’ pay, but employers need to register (excluding for pregnancy and parental leaves already in place).
Q - What are the landlord’s rights in terms of laundry rooms?
A -
  • Contact public health for protocols
  • Recommend creating schedule, staggering use and limiting availability o Need to establish health and safety protocols i.e., ensure sanitizing in between use
Regarding Business Continuity/Emergency Preparedness, ONPHA has provided tools and resources on the Member Support COVID-19 webpage, including a Pandemic Planning Guide.

Recommend to regularly check Ministry of Health Ontario, Public Health Agency of Canada, World Health Organization to guard against misinformation

Key websites: Employment Standards Act, Work Sharing Program, Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program