British Columbia’s ministry of labour is introducing a new online portal to help the government process applications for temporary layoff extensions more quickly.

In late June, the province extended the time period for temporary layoffs related to the coronavirus pandemic to a maximum of 24 weeks — up from 16 previously — expiring Aug. 30, following calls from opposition parties and businesses, which said many small organizations could go out of business if suddenly forced to pay out severance.

Employers wishing to extend their layoffs beyond the end of August must apply to the government’s employment standards branch for permission for a so-called variance of employment standards legislation. The online portal, launched last week, aims to expedite those applications. Employers must first obtain support from more than 50 per cent of their employees and document the consent in their applications, which are due by Aug. 25 to ensure they’re processed before Aug. 30.

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“Government recommends that employers submit their variance applications early to avoid the potential of permanent staff layoffs and compensation for length of service to eligible workers upon the expiry of the COVID-19 emergency layoff period,” said the ministry in a press release.

The portal also aims to eliminate the need for hard-copy documents and signatures, which the government said streamlines the process for employers and employees making a joint application for an extension. It also provides employers and employees with supportive templates and tools to help them through the process.

If the extension is granted, employees will be able to retain their rate of pay, vacation accrual, years of service, benefits and leaves of absence when they eventually return to the workplace. The director of employment standards will only consider layoff extensions beyond Dec. 31, 2020 in “exceptional circumstances.”

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