Posted March 23, 2020; and last updated April 6.
This is intended as general information only. Readers seeking guidance specific to their individual situation are advised to consult with their accountant.
Issuing Records of Employment (ROE’s) related to COVID-related work interruptions
The Record of Employment or ‘ROE’ is the document that enables employees to apply for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.
Employers are required to issue these, and the system is overwhelmed: in less than three weeks, millions of applications for EI have been received by Service Canada, with 27,000 weekly being the norm.
The Federal Government wishes to divert affected employees from the EI system, and over to two other programs, which are outlined in a dedicated blog, in their own sections: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
Any worker who is no longer receiving pay due to COVID, who applies for EI after March 15, 2020 will be internally diverted by Service Canada to the CERB program. After CERB benefits are exhausted, then the worker can tap into their EI entitlement.
Methods of issuing a ROE
If your business uses a third-party payroll service such as ADP or Ceridian, the ROE’s will be issued through those providers, at the employer’s request.
Some businesses issue ROE’s themselves, using the online application ROE Web. One must have an existing account opened in order to have immediate access to this filing option. First-time sign-up for the ROE Web service can take two weeks or more, as, after the initial online registration, a confirmation code is sent out by mail, in order to complete the account registration process.
For businesses that are laying off folks now, and use neither a third-party payroll provider nor ROE Web, the quickest solution may be to order blank paper ROE’s via Service Canada by phoning 1.800.367.5693. Keep in mind that folks are reporting mammoth wait times on hold with Service Canada.
It is important to note that each ROE is imbued with its own serial number, and is monitored by the government, to avoid misuse related to fraudulent ROE’s. For this reason, ‘blank’ ROE forms cannot be found online.
Block 16 — ‘reason for issuing the ROE’
Regardless of the method by which the ROE is being filed, the employer must have all required information in hand, including the ‘reason’ for issuing the ROE, which is denoted by a single-letter code in Block 16 of the ROE. For example, an employee who quits is less likely to qualify for EI coverage than one who has been laid off.
If the employee is being laid off due to shortage of work, indicate code ‘A’ on the ROE (‘Shortage of Work’), as the reason for issuing the ROE. This would apply if the business is closing entirely, or if it is reducing its activity in some way that reduces the need for workers. Code ‘A’ is typical of layoffs, even before the COVID events.
If the employee is choosing to voluntarily self-isolate (without a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis or sign of illness); or needs to take time off to care for their children; or is caring for a family member confirmed to have COVID-19; then indicate code ‘N’ on the ROE (‘Leave of Absence’).
If the employee is confirmed to have COVID-19; or is under quarantine while being tested; or is under quarantine after a return from international travel; then indicate code ‘D’ on the ROE (‘Illness or Injury’). Once employees with this code apply for EI online, they can then phone a special line at Service Canada (1.833.381.2725) to request that the usual one-week EI wait time be waived. They should prepare to be on hold for some time. A medical certificate is no longer required.
Service Canada is advising against using Code ‘K’ (‘Other’) for any scenarios that fit within the three discussed above. It is also recommended to keep the comments box blank. Any ROE submitted with the comment box populated is pulled out of the application stream for manual review, resulting in longer wait times for the benefit to flow.
Act ‘as if’ the employee is not returning
Although this hopefully will not turn out to be the case in the end, I suggest that the employer act ‘as if’ the employee will not be returning, when a COVID-19-related ROE is issued to an employee.
This means liquidating any vacation pay or other monies owed (e.g. commissions, overtime) on the final paycheque that triggers the ROE. There is a box on the ROE where these amounts can be specified.
Urge employees to apply for EI online
Employees should be directed to apply for EI benefits online. Service Canada offices are now closed to the public.
The employee does not need to have the ROE issued before applying for EI. They can indicate that the ROE is to come, and Service Canada will match the application to the ROE. At time of writing, folks applying for EI will be internally redirected to the CERB program. When those benefits have been exhausted, the worker will then be able to tap into their regular EI entitlements.
Some links of note
In the addition to the hyperlinks contained in this article, these may be of interest:
BCGEU EI Factsheet (for employees)