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COVID-19 Update: Information for Employers

Updated as of June 15, 2020

Over the last few weeks, we have received numerous questions about how COVID-19 is impacting the Plan. As a result, we have compiled these Frequently Asked Questions. Given the continually changing circumstances, we will update this page frequently with new information as it becomes available.


Frequently Asked Employer Questions

Our mailroom is still operating, and letters will continue to be sent via Canada Post. In the event of a shut down, we will look to our business continuity plans and practices that were established and implemented during a previous Canada Post service disruption.  

The OMERS Pensions team is still running business as usual. If you need a digital version of a specific letter, we can forward that to you. Our Employer Services team is available via email or phone from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. 

Yes, in order to ensure that we have enough time to process payments for the July 1 pension start date we require completed applications by June 15, 2020. This will ensure that members receive their pension on July 1. Completed applications received after June 15, 2020 will be paid on August 1, retroactively to July 1.

Completed applications should include:

  1.  Form 143 - Request for an OMERS Plan benefit (from the employer)

  2. The relevant banking information; and

  3. A signed election form or signed advanced waiver election form as applicable.

We encourage you to send any supporting documents in advance, and to scan and email documents rather than sending by fax or through the mail. If you have any trouble providing these completed documents, please contact Employer Services so that we can help.

Currently, absences from work are treated differently, with some purchasable and others not.  
 
OMERS has reviewed the Plan provisions regarding leaves in the context of the recent amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and COVID-19. The newly established “Emergency Leave: Declared Emergencies and Infectious Disease Emergencies” is purchasable, with the member paying one times the cost of contributions, based on the member’s deemed earnings (in effect before the leave started). In other words, if the member elects to purchase this leave, the employer would match the contributions. 

If an employee is on a temporary layoff (rather than an authorized leave of absence), this period is not purchasable. 

You should consider the treatment and reporting of various absences from work based on the above.

For more information about leave period and temporary layoff administration, please see the "Employer Bulletin: Information on Absences from Work Related to COVID-19” below.

The current rules for re-employment of an OMERS pensioner continue to apply in this situation.  See section “2.1.5 Re-employed retired members” in the OMERS Administration Manual.

A member cannot accrue service in the Plan while receiving an OMERS pension. If a member wishes to continue receiving their pension payment while working, they will not be permitted to re-enrol in the Plan even if they are technically required to re-enrol (i.e., they are either returning to (a) continuous full-time (CFT) employment or (b) Other than CFT employment where mandatory enrolment is required for that class of employees).

If the member does not wish to re-enrol in order to continue receiving their pension, the election should be made as close to the re-hire date as possible. The election takes effect from the hire date.

Despite the above, employees are not permitted to enrol past November of the year they turn age 71.  In addition, every employer should ensure that a bona fide termination has occurred.

No. This type of pay must be excluded from contributory earnings. Since the pay is temporary in nature, it falls outside of the description of amounts being received on a regular and recurring basis (whether the additional pay is provided in a one-time lump sum or over a temporary period of time). 

Yes. This deadline is based on the Pension Benefits Act requirement to provide member statements by June 30, 2020, and OMERS does not have the ability to change it. We understand that these are unprecedented times but do encourage you to work towards completion by the June 30, 2020 deadline, as best as you can. If you require assistance with the completion of Form 119 or if you are concerned you will not meet the deadline please contact Employer Services for support.

OMERS delivers on its pension promise by collecting member and employer contributions and earning investment returns on those contributions. While OMERS understands and appreciates the financial pressures that our employers are facing during this challenging time, we require regular remittance of contributions by employers to satisfy our immediate financial obligations to our members.

This requirement to continue to remit contributions is not just an administrative practice, but it is also a legal requirement under the Pension Benefits Act and the OMERS Plan Text. OMERS does not have the discretion to allow employers to defer their contributions. Further, OMERS has an obligation to report late remittances to the regulator.

For information on how to report leaves related to COVID-19, a new e-Learning module is now available to help guide you through the process.

Additionally, you (and your employees) can visit the new OMERS Community site.

There, you’ll find resources, including health and wellness information from our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Aw, and inspirational stories from OMERS portfolio companies as well as our member and employer communities. We are also offering a program to keep in touch called OMERS Virtual Coffee Chats, where you’ll be able to connect with someone in the community over the phone.

Please feel free to make use of this resource yourself and to distribute it to your employees who may be seeking support.  

A myOMERS account is not required to access the site.

A temporary layoff does not impact the calculation of a member’s pensionable earnings. A member’s pensionable earnings are based on contributory earnings for the 60 months of consecutive credited service during which the contributory earnings are the highest. As there is no credited service (or contributions) during a period of temporary layoff, the member’s credited service before and after the layoff is considered continuous and used for the purposes of determining pensionable earnings.  In other words, the pensionable earnings will not include a period of $0 contributory earnings for the period of temporary layoff but rather, the absence will be ignored.

A member is only impacted by a reduction in work hours if their earnings are also reduced. If a continuous full-time (CFT) member’s earnings continue at 100% even if they work fewer hours and receive paid leave for the unworked hours, then their pay is uninterrupted. In this case, you would continue deducting OMERS contributions for CFT credited service and there is no impact to the member.
  
If, however, a CFT member is temporarily working less and receiving less pay during the COVID-19 pandemic, the period of temporary reduced hours and pay would be reported as an authorized leave. Periods of temporary reduced hours and pay should not be reported as a change from CFT to other-than-continuous full-time (OTCFT) status.   

As an authorized leave, the member can purchase the unworked days at two times contribution cost to recover up to the member’s CFT contributory earnings and credited service, when they return to their permanent work schedule.  You would offer the purchase to them at that time. If you have an OTCFT member on a period of reduced pay due to COVID-19, please contact Employer Services.

Please note that eligibility for offering and purchasing a period of reduced pay is limited to members who have a minimum 36 months of employment. 

If the pay is continued as regular wages/salary (i.e., not a lump-sum payment), then OMERS deductions should be made.  In this case the regular pay is considered uninterrupted.

Top-up payments to Employment Insurance benefits are not considered to be amounts received on a regular and recurring basis (i.e., these payments are temporary) and are therefore excluded from contributory earnings.

Yes, there are three Plan amendments being considered as part of our ongoing support of members during this time. For more information, please click here.

OMERS remains a defined benefit pension plan focused on paying predictable monthly incomes to its members in retirement. This has not changed, even with the global pandemic situation. Our pension promise is very important, both to our members and to us.

We hear our members concerns related to current markets. We want to emphasize a key point – the OMERS pension is built for the long run. Our members can be certain that OMERS team of expert investors worldwide has been taking specific measures over the last several years to help safeguard our portfolio as much as possible for events just like this one.

From an investment perspective, we remain focused on long-term returns. Our members should have confidence that our high-quality portfolio and highly capable and experienced team will continue to take steps to deliver on our pension promise.

OMERS continues to operate under the regular monthly pension payroll cycle. Pensions will continue to be paid on the first business day of the month and new pensions will commence on time if all of the required documents are received.

1. Can the member purchase the reduction in earnings?
If you temporarily reduce a member’s earnings but require that they continue to work their regular CFT hours, they will not be able to purchase the reduction in earnings for OMERS purposes.

2. How does this temporary reduction in earnings impact contributory earnings and credited service?
During this period, members continue to make contributions, based on actual (reduced) pay, and will continue to accrue credited service. Their contributory earnings for this period will be based on the actual (reduced) earnings.

3. How does this temporary reduction in earnings impact pensionable earnings?
A member’s pensionable earnings are based on their highest 60 consecutive months of contributory earnings. In this case because they are still contributing on their reduced earnings, these earnings will be included in pensionable earnings if it is part of a member’s highest 60 months of consecutive credited service.

Recently the Ontario government announced it will be providing frontline staff with a temporary pandemic payment in recognition of the dedication, long hours and increased risk of working to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Can pandemic payments be included in OMERS contributory earnings?*

These pandemic payments cannot be included in OMERS contributory earnings, as they are temporary in nature (i.e., only payable over the next four months) and not part of the employer’s regular recurring compensation (i.e., salary and wages) for its employees.

*April 25, 2020, the province announced Pandemic Pay for eligible frontline workers from April 24 to August 13, 2020. This includes a $4/hour premium and a $250 lump-sum payment for those working more than 100 hours a month over the next four months.


On May 29, 2020, the Ontario government filed a new regulation (O. Reg. 228/20) that deems certain employees whose hours are temporarily reduced or eliminated for reasons related to COVID-19 to be on an Infectious Disease Emergency Leave under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. Will this new regulation impact OMERS administration of leave periods?

OMERS is considering the impacts of this regulation on the administration of leave periods. We are working on updating the COVID-19 sites on omers.com to provide our members and employers more information on this regulation and its impacts.


NEW: The Ontario government has approved an emergency order that enables school board employees to be voluntarily redeployed to congregate care settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, including hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes, and women's shelters. As a school board employee, what are the pension implications (e.g., contribution deductions, service accrual) if a member decides to be voluntarily redeployed?

The announcement from the Ontario government stated that voluntarily redeployed staff will maintain their employment relationship with the school board and will continue to receive their compensation and other employment benefits. During this temporary redeployment, a member continues to make contributions, based on actual pay, and will continue to accrue credited service. In other words, their OMERS pension will not be affected by the redeployment.

The announcement also mentions that they are eligible for the provincial government's pandemic pay. These pandemic payments cannot be included in OMERS contributory earnings, as they are temporary in nature (i.e., only payable over the next four months) and not part of regular recurring compensation (i.e., salary and wages).


NEW: The Ontario government has approved an emergency order that enables school board employees to be voluntarily redeployed to congregate care settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, including hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes, and women's shelters. As a school board employee, what are the pension implications (e.g., contribution deductions, service accrual) if a member decides to be voluntarily redeployed?

The announcement from the Ontario government stated that voluntarily redeployed staff will maintain their employment relationship with the school board and will continue to receive their compensation and other employment benefits. During this temporary redeployment, a member continues to make contributions, based on actual pay, and will continue to accrue credited service. In other words, their OMERS pension will not be affected by the redeployment.

The announcement also mentions that they are eligible for the provincial government's pandemic pay. These pandemic payments cannot be included in OMERS contributory earnings, as they are temporary in nature (i.e., only payable over the next four months) and not part of regular recurring compensation (i.e., salary and wages).

Leave Dropdown Selection in e-access

The following tool is intended to guide you through a series of questions to determine the appropriate leave type in e-access for leaves specifically related to COVID-19. If the leave is not related to the pandemic, please use regular reporting procedures.

Reporting Leaves Related to COVID-19 2020


Employer Bulletin: Information on Absences from Work Related to COVID-19

We understand that employers are facing significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 situation which may impact their workforces. This update is intended to assist employers in understanding some of the impacts that different types of employee absences may have from an OMERS Plan perspective.* Please note that this update reflects the information available to OMERS as of March 30.

New (as of April 27, 2020): The information below is now available as an e-Learning module that you can access here.


*This update only relates to the OMERS Primary Pension Plan, and not the retirement compensation arrangement.


Emergency Leave under the Employment Standards Act, 2000

The government recently amended some of the leaves of absence provisions in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”). A new unpaid leave of absence, Emergency Leave: Declared Emergencies and Infectious Disease Emergencies (“Emergency Leave”), replaced the previous Declared Emergency leave. You can access the new ESA provisions on the government’s e-laws website. For ease of reference, the ESA provisions that set out the situations in which an employee is entitled to an Emergency Leave are reproduced in the Appendix to this note.

In light of the COVID-19 situation, some examples of Emergency Leave might include:

  • an employee who cannot come to work due to their business being ordered to close as a result of the emergency recently declared pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act; or

  • an employee who cannot come to work because they are in quarantine, pursuant to the designation of COVID-19 as an infectious disease by regulation (retroactive to January 25, 2020).

Please note that the determination of whether an employee is eligible for a leave of absence without pay under the Emergency Leave provisions is an employment decision. OMERS does not make this determination. Employers should consider seeking legal advice for any questions in this area.


Emergency Leave for OMERS Purposes

Under the terms of the OMERS Plan, similar to most other ESA protected leaves (e.g., pregnancy or parental leave), a member may purchase a period of Emergency Leave by paying one times the cost of contributions, based on the member’s deemed earnings, before the end of the year following the year in which the Emergency Leave ends.

If the member elects to purchase this leave within the time period noted above, the employer would match the contributions. If the member does not purchase the leave and wishes to do so at a future date, the member may buy back the leave (there would be no employer contributions in this case). Note that the cost of a buy back is calculated differently.

Any Emergency Leave period that is not purchased by the member would be considered eligible service (i.e., to determine when a member is eligible for an unreduced pension).


Other Authorized Leave

Employers sometimes authorize an employee to take an unpaid leave of absence, which is not provided for under the ESA (“Authorized Leave”). An Authorized Leave might include, for example, a personal leave of absence.

Under the terms of the OMERS Plan, an OMERS member is permitted to purchase a period of Authorized Leave by paying two times the cost of contributions, based on the member’s deemed earnings. In other words, if the member elects to purchase this leave, the employer would not be required to match the contributions.

Again, the member would have until the end of the year following the year in which the Authorized Leave ends to make this purchase.

If the member does not purchase this leave and wishes to do so at a future date, the member may buy back the leave (there would be no employer contributions). Note that the cost of a buy back is calculated differently.

Any Authorized Leave period that is not purchased by the member would not be considered eligible service (i.e., to determine when a member is eligible for an unreduced pension).


Temporary Layoff

Employers sometimes lay off employees for a period which lasts as long as recall rights exist or the employer reasonably expects to recall the member (“Temporary Layoff”). Employers who are considering placing employees on Temporary Layoff may wish to consider whether those employees are entitled to a leave of absence without pay under the Emergency Leave provisions in the ESA. To that end, employers may wish to seek legal advice.

Under the terms of the OMERS Plan, a member is not permitted to purchase or buy back a period of Temporary Layoff. Any period of Temporary Layoff would not be considered eligible service.


Summary

The following chart provides a summary of the impacts discussed above for Emergency Leave, Authorized Leave and Temporary Layoff:

Period of absence

Emergency Leave

Authorized Leave

Temporary Layoff

Purchasable by member?

Yes

Yes

No

Cost of purchase for member?

Member pays one times the cost of contributions, based on the member’s deemed earnings

Member pays two times the cost of contributions, based on the member’s deemed earnings

N/A

If purchased, are employer contributions required?

Yes

No

N/A

If not purchased, can the period be purchased as a buy-back at a future date by member?

Yes

Yes

No

OMERS will continue to monitor the COVID-19 developments and consider impacts on OMERS members and employers. If you have any additional questions, please contact Employer Services at the number below, email at employerservices@omers.com.
 
Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Phone: +1 416.350.6750
Toll-free: +1 833.884.0389


Appendix

Excerpt from the Employment Standards Act, 2000: Leave of absence without pay for declared emergencies and infectious disease emergencies.

Leave of absence without pay

(1.1) An employee is entitled to a leave of absence without pay if the employee will not be performing the duties of his or her position,

(a) because of an emergency declared under section 7.0.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and,

(i) because of an order that applies to him or her made under section 7.0.2 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act,
(ii) because of an order that applies to him or her made under the Health Protection and Promotion Act,
(iii) because he or she is needed to provide care or assistance to an individual referred to in subsection (8), or
(iv) because of such other reasons as may be prescribed; or

(b) because of one or more of the following reasons related to a designated infectious disease:

(i) The employee is under individual medical investigation, supervision or treatment related to the designated infectious disease.
(ii) The employee is acting in accordance with an order under section 22 or 35 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act that relates to the designated infectious disease.
(iii) The employee is in quarantine or isolation or is subject to a control measure (which may include, but is not limited to, self-isolation), and the quarantine, isolation or control measure was implemented as a result of information or directions related to the designated infectious disease issued to the public, in whole or in part, or to one or more individuals, by a public health official, a qualified health practitioner, Telehealth Ontario, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada, a municipal council or a board of health, whether through print, electronic, broadcast or other means.
(iv) The employee is under a direction given by his or her employer in response to a concern of the employer that the employee may expose other individuals in the workplace to the designated infectious disease.
(v) The employee is providing care or support to an individual referred to in subsection (8) because of a matter related to the designated infectious disease that concerns that individual, including, but not limited to, school or day care closures.
(vi) The employee is directly affected by travel restrictions related to the designated infectious disease and, under the circumstances, cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to Ontario.
(vii) Such other reasons as may be prescribed. 2020, c. 3, s. 4 (1).