More than one quarter of small firms report workers refusing to return to work; preference for CERB top reason given

Toronto, July 16, 2020 – New survey data on small business staffing issues reveal a significant challenge for employers in rehiring or finding the workers they need to safely reopen their businesses, reports the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). Only one third of small firms report they are at normal staffing levels, and one quarter report having a hard time in finding the staff they need to operate.

“Staffing is one of the many challenges for small businesses trying to get back to normal,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. “More than a quarter (27 per cent) of small firms report that some of their laid-off staff have refused to return to work when recalled.” 

Of those who have had staff refuse to return to work, the top reasons reported by small business owners are:

  • They prefer to stay on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) (62 per cent)
  • They are concerned about their own physical health or that of their family (47 per cent)
  • They are concerned about childcare obligations (27 per cent)
  • They do not feel there are enough hours or work available (16 per cent)
  • They prefer the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) (11 per cent)
  • They are concerned about taking public transportation (7 per cent)

“It is clear that CERB has created a disincentive to return to work for some staff, especially in industries like hospitality and personal services,” Kelly said. “CERB was created as emergency support for workers who had lost their job due to the pandemic, not to fund a summer break. This is why it is critical that all parties support the government’s proposed change to end CERB benefits when an employer asks a worker to return to work.”

CFIB has urged the government to make changes to the federal aid programs, to ensure Canadians can safely transition from CERB to work using the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) as a step towards unsubsidized employment. 

“While CFIB is pleased the government has extended the wage subsidy until December, details on how the program will work are desperately needed. It is crazy that employers do not even know if they will qualify for the July subsidy period while we are half-way through the month,” Kelly added.

To assist moving Canadians from CERB to CEWS and then towards unsubsidized employment, CFIB recommends:

  • Allowing more businesses to participate in CEWS by removing or reducing the 30 per cent revenue drop test or by creating a sliding scale to allow those with lower revenue drops to access a smaller subsidy
  • Continuing CERB benefits for those who need them, but requiring recipients to be available and looking for work, and ensuring benefits stop if a worker is offered a new job or their old job back, unless they or a family member are sick 
  • Allowing CERB recipients to earn more while retaining some of their benefit so they are not discouraged from working more hours

“Many workers can’t go back to work yet for valid reasons, but changes are needed to key support programs to help employers reopen and rehire their teams," concluded Kelly. "There is no recovery without getting Canadians back to work.”

For more details, consult the detailed survey results.

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every industry and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. Learn more at