Can the WorkShare program save your business?

Many Canadian employers, HR professionals, and even some employment lawyers (not naming names, ahem…) had never heard of the federal government’s WorkShare program until a few weeks ago.  The federal government is leaning heavily on WorkShare as a key part of the solution to our current economic crises.  Could it help your business?

Forte Law has two former EI adjudicators on our team (lawyer Jim Wu and an external consultant with over 30 years at Service Canada), and we have prepared this blog to outline what we have learned about WorkShare.

What is the WorkShare program, anyway?

In its essence, where a business has an approved WorkShare program, a reduction in work can be spread across a number of workers, rather than individual layoffs. The workers continue with a mix of part-time work and partial EI.

Why have we never heard of WorkShare before?

The program has been in place for many years, but in recent time, it had only applied in the forestry, steel and aluminum industries.  The application process was extensive and with turnaround time of 30 days on applications, it was not realistic for any organization looking to pivot and reduce labour costs quickly.

Enter WorkShare 2.0 (*our name, not the government’s)

The program is now open to businesses in any industry, as long as they have been in business for one year, are a private business, publicly held company or not-for-profit organization, and have at least two employees to spread work between in a “WorkShare Unit”.

The application process has been streamlined and the advertised turnaround time for approval is now 10 days, down from 30 days.

Could WorkShare save your business?

In its new and streamlined format, this could be a really viable solution to reduce labour costs for businesses who have had a slowdown, but not a complete shutdown.  As with all government programs, there are limitations and parameters.  It only applies to certain categories of employees and the reduction in work has to be 10% to 60%.  One key requirement is that all impacted employees must agree and sign off on the application.

A distinct advantage for employees is that if they agree to a WorkShare and are later laid off entirely, their EI rate will be determined at their full normal wage.  If an employee’s hours are reduced without a Workshare, and they are later laid off, the reduced earnings period may reduce their EI benefits rate.

Tips for WorkShare applications

In consulting with some former EI adjudicators on our team (now lawyers and consultants with our firm), we have the following practical tips for increasing your chance of success:

  1. Don’t feel constrained by the small boxes on the application form (particularly boxes 17 and 26). If you don’t provide enough information, the reviewing officer may need to call you for more information.  This creates delay.  You may want to write “see attached” on the form and attach a document setting out more details.
  2. Start with the basics. The person reviewing your application knows nothing about your business, industry or strategies.  Don’t worry about talking down to them.
  3. Put yourself in the program officer’s seat. They will be looking at a large pile of applications.  Time taken to format your documents nicely, completing them on the computer rather than handwriting, and having them well organized will best position your application to be understood and approved quickly.

You may want to consider retaining a professional to prepare your application.  You will need to provide the content, but if completing online forms and writing compelling letters is not your strength, or you don’t have the time to put into the application, we can help you to make sure your application is complete and well put-together.

Looking for more information or support in making your application?

The federal government’s information page is here: WorkShare Program.

You can contact our firm for general advice on WorkShare and other options to reduce labour costs, or for help preparing or reviewing your WorkShare application.

Date published: March 27, 2020

This blog is not intended to serve as legal advice, and only provides general information. Every situation must be considered on its own facts.

Need legal advice? Contact us by phone at 604 535-7063 or email [email protected].

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