The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Canadian workers, and the Ontario Government recently took another step in protecting its workforce. On April 29, 2021, it passed Bill 284, also known as the COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, 2021. This legislation revised the Employment Standard Act, 2000 (ESA) by requiring employers to provide three paid sick days to their employees. Initially, the ESA did not mandate paid sick leave; instead, employees were guaranteed job-protected unpaid time off.
According to the legislation passed, paid sick days will be retroactive to April 19, 2021, and the entitlement is set to end on September 25, 2021, but it may be extended.
Paid Leave Details
The bill states that employers must provide their employees with three paid sick days. Employees do not have to take the days consecutively, but they must use them in full-day increments.
Employees will be paid, but that compensation will not necessarily match lost wages. Instead, employers must pay employees’ regular wages but with a $200 per day maximum.
The need for sick leave must be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For employees to receive paid sick days, they must be unable to perform their duties due to circumstances related to COVID-19. However, employees do not have to provide a physician’s note or other evidence to verify the leave. Eligible cases include the following:
- Being under a health protection order
- Undergoing a quarantine, a self-isolation, or another control measure, as advised by medical professionals or public health authorities
- Being under medical treatment or supervision, including receiving a COVID-19 vaccination or recovering from one
- Caring for a family member who is a) undergoing a quarantine, a self-isolation, or another control measure, as advised by medical professionals or public health authorities or b) under medical treatment or supervision
- Adhering to a self-isolation direction from an employer who is concerned about virus exposure in the workplace
Note that employees are not eligible for these sick days if their employers already provide contractual sick leave that is more comprehensive. Such contractual leave also includes sick days provided under a collective agreement.
Ontario employers that are federally regulated (for example, telecommunications, banks, and interprovincial transportation) follow the federal sick pay policy, so this revision to the ESA does not apply.
Since covering the cost of this sick leave may be a burden on employers, the ESA allows employers to request reimbursement (up to the $200 per day maximum) from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Employers are required to apply for such reimbursement within 120 days of the sick day used. The WSIB will not reimburse for contractual sick days, and if the employer cancels contractual sick days as a way to benefit from this reimbursement option, the WSIB will not reimburse.
All Ontario employers are advised to review the ESA amendments and ensure that their existing policies and practices are revised as necessary to address this paid leave availability. They should also check the requirements for submitting a reimbursement application to the WSIB.
Note that Prince Edward Island and Quebec already provide paid sick leave, while the Yukon offers a paid sick leave rebate that supports employees and self-employed workers affected by COVID-19. It also appears that British Columbia is considering a program for sick leave.
Governments across Canada continue to study and respond to the effects of COVID-19, and as a result, they are making efforts to regularly amend their safety protections and economic measures. Employers throughout Canada are encouraged to monitor provincial and territorial mandates to ensure the appropriate protections for their workers.