Ontario Provides Employees with Paid Leave Entitlement in COVID-19-Related Circumstances

On April 29, 2021, the Ontario government passed Bill 284, COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, 2021 (the “Act”), which amended the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”).  The Act requires employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid leave if they miss work for COVID-19-related reasons.  The paid leave entitlement is retroactive to April 19, 2021 and will end on September 25, 2021, the same day that the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit ends.  The Act may be extended beyond that date.

Eligibility for Paid Leave for COVID-19-Related Reasons

Under the Act, employees are entitled to three days of paid leave if they are (i) under medical investigation, supervision or treatment related to COVID-19, (ii) obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination, (iii) experiencing COVID-19-related side effects, (iv) required by their employer, medical practitioner or other authority to self-isolate or (v) providing care or support to a dependent who is (a) sick with or symptomatic of COVID-19 or (b) self-isolating due to COVID-19.  If employees qualify for paid leave, they are not required to provide their employers with a medical certification.

Calculating the Paid Leave Benefit

Employees’ leave will be paid out using their regular rate of pay.  The Act provides that employers must pay employees the lesser of $200 per day and either (i) the wages that employees would have earned had they not taken the leave or (ii) where employees receive commissions or tips, the greater of employees’ hourly rate, if any, and the minimum wage that would have applied to employees for the number of hours that they would have worked had they not taken the leave.  Eligible employees will be paid up to $200 per day.

Applying for Reimbursement

Eligible employers may apply to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) for reimbursement of leave paid to employees.  Employers may be reimbursed up to $200 per day, per employee, if they apply for reimbursement within 120 days of making the payment.

Takeaways

Employers in Ontario should review their existing policies and practices to ensure that they address the availability of this paid leave.  Employers also should review the Act prior to submitting a reimbursement application to the WSIB to be sure that the application adheres to all legal requirements.

Ontario is neither the first nor only Canadian province to address COVID-19-related paid sick leave.  Quebec and Prince Edward Island already offer paid sick leave, and the Yukon provides a paid sick leave rebate to support employees and self-employed individuals who have been affected by COVID-19.  British Columbia has indicated that it is considering instituting a sick leave program as well.

We will continue to monitor COVID-19 legislation, measures and guidance that is implemented across Canada and other international jurisdictions as governments respond to COVID-19-related workplace challenges.