Governing colleges are strongly recommending that dentists in BC, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Ontario to suspend all non-essential and elective services immediately. While emergency treatment may continue, anything that does not show risk of infection or represent acute pain or trauma is being discouraged. While these guidelines are limited to these specific provinces, it is likely that similar restrictions will expand throughout Canada. We have been proactive in speaking with many of our clients regarding options moving forward. These restrictions are unprecedented, and available information appears to be changing hourly. Unfortunately, dentists are being faced with the decision to either cover staffing expenses during any shutdown or make the difficult decision to layoff staff until the colleges choose to amend their guidelines. Further complications appear with Monday’s announcement by BC Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry stating that four new cases in BC are directly linked to the Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver on March 6th and 7th. Dr. Henry advises that anyone who attended the conference needs to self-isolate until March 22nd. This stance is mirrored by the College of Dental Surgeons of BC. While the closure of a dental office due to required self-isolation is not ideal, it does provide some protection for employees, as there are two main classifications of EI benefits that would apply to their situation and help to offset costs.
EI SICKNESS BENEFITS
- EI Sickness benefits provide up to 15 weeks of income replacement and provides 55% of pre-sickness earnings, up to $573/week. The information below was copied from the Government of Canada directly. Service Canada is ready to support Canadians affected by COVID-19 and placed in quarantine, with the following support actions:
- The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
- Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period. 1-833-381-2725 Priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for clients under quarantine.
If staff were attendees of the Pacific Dental Conference, the isolation detailed by the provincial health officer would apply and staff would be eligible for EI Sickness Benefits detailed above. Note that this benefit only applies for the duration of quarantine or isolation. There is currently language that indicates EI Sickness benefits may be topped-up by an employer. We are currently clarifying whether this applies to EI Sickness benefits through recent Coronavirus legislation.
EI Regular Benefits
EI regular benefits are provided to individuals who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. If a practice is forced to close due to college guidelines, staff would qualify for regular benefits under standard eligibility guidelines. As with EI Sickness Benefits, staff would generally receive 55% of their average insurance earnings up to $573/week. EI benefits can extend from 14 weeks up to 45 weeks, depending on your province. Unfortunately, EI regular benefits have a waiting period that sees the first benefit payment received approximately 28 days after submission. In this respect, if staff do not qualify for EI sickness benefits, many practices may wish to continue paying their employees for a short period before a layoff notice is delivered in order to provide advance planning opportunities. As with EI Sickness Benefit, an ROE must be completed indicating the reason for the layoff. It is important to highlight the layoff as a temporary and unforeseen circumstance, and detail that the layoff is temporary until the environment has changed to a point where employing staff becomes economically viable. Employees will not be entitled to any severance payment, as this is a temporary change in employment status. Please note that if an employee receives EI Sickness Benefit and then the decision is made to layoff an employee, a separate ROE is needed and should be completed along with a notice outlining the reasoning for the layoff. Some additional questions and responses:
Should i pay my staff while the office is closed?
This is an extremely difficult decision that cannot be addressed without looking at specific circumstances. Almost all practices that TPC Financial Group has advised will have an operating line of credit available to cover cashflow shortfalls in any given month. Ensure that you have enough room to cover 3 to 4 months of fixed expenditures (wages/ lab/supply costs) then determine if there are enough available funds to supplement wages for staff. We recommend that you discuss with colleagues as to their approach and attempt to coordinate for a consistent message within the dental community.
if i wish to close my office to all but emergencies, how do i address staffing for those emergencies?
If you have a colleague, practice partner, or a spouse who is also a dentist/dental professional, then we recommend that you fill the role as chairside assistant/dentist without employing a staff member. If you require an assistant, we recommend that you continue paying one essential employee to remain available upon demand for dental emergencies.
what are the risks of stayin open during a closure?
Many dentists are seeing a reduced supply of masks. The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario has stated, “The current crisis requires continued rigour regarding IPAC. The College will not be relaxing any Standards or required processes.”. If proper protection is not provided to staff, the risk of legal fallout increases, and likely represents a larger financial impact than simply laying off staff.
who completes the ROE?
If you have a payroll company, inquire as to whether they can assist in the preparation of ROE’s for your staff. If they are not able to, reach out to your accountant/bookkeeper/TPC Financial Advisor for direction and recommendations.
what do i put in my letter notifying staff of layoffs?
We would hope that staff would be understanding of the impact current restrictions have on the financial viability of a dental practice. At the same time, it is important to let them know that this is a temporary lay-off and is due to the coronavirus pandemic that is outside of your control and was unforeseeable. We recommend stating that the layoff is for the benefit of long-term employment and is required to ensure continuity of business operations. Unfortunately, it would be prudent to note that as this is a temporary layoff, the employee would not be eligible for any severance.
*Please note that this is a time of continued change and unknowns. Our recommendations and commentary should not be perceived as legal advice, but rather context and resources with which to assist in making a difficult decision. We strongly recommend that you speak with an employment lawyer prior to making any decisions with respect to employment considerations.