Ontario Government Proposes Legislation to Protect Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 16, 2020, the Ontario Government proposed legislation in order to provide job protection to workers across Ontario.

The proposed legislation would, if passed, provide job protection for workers who are unable to work for the following reasons:

  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19.
  • The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
  • The employee is in isolation or quarantine.
  • The employee is acting in accordance with public health information or direction.
  • The employer directs the employee not to work.
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure.

The proposed legislation would also make it clear that an employee will not be required to provide a medical note to their employer if they take a leave for any of the above reasons.

The Provincial Government has indicated that the proposed legislation will have retroactive effect to January 25, 2020 (the date that the first presumptive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ontario).

The proposed legislation follows the Federal Government’s implementation of temporary special measures related to Employment Insurance (“EI”) and Work-Sharing programs. These measures:

  1. waive the one-week waiting period for EI sick benefits for new claimants who are quarantined for COVID-19;
  2. establish a new dedicated toll-free number for enquiries related to the waiver of the EI sick benefits waiting period;
  3. prioritize EI application processing for sickness claims filed by those under quarantine for COVID-19; and
  4. allow eligible employers to retain skilled employees during a business downturn due to COVID-19 by extending work-sharing agreements by 38 weeks, waiving the mandatory waiting period between work-sharing agreements, and easing recovery plan requirements.

It is unclear when the proposed Provincial legislation will be passed, as the Ontario legislature is currently on March break and no timeline has been set for recalling the House to pass the legislation. However, the Ontario Government is expected to pass the legislation quickly with the cooperation of opposition parties, given the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on financial and labour markets. We will continue to monitor developments related to the proposed Provincial legislation and will post further updates as information becomes available.

For more information on how to respond to the challenges presented by COVID-19, please see the firm’s post on COVID-19 in the Workplace.

If you have any questions regarding how the proposed Provincial legislation or the recent COVID-19 developments may impact your workplace, please contact the firm.