Ontario extends COVID-19 paid sick leave

It's a brave move from the government – one which will impact all employers across the province

Ontario extends COVID-19 paid sick leave

The Ontario government has announced an extension to their Worker Income Protection Benefit program – providing COVID-19 sick days – until July 21 2022. The rise of the Omicron variant has led employers to rethink their return to work plans, making it likely that businesses will continue in a WFH capacity into the New Year. With this extension, employees can continue to access this paid leave to get tested, vaccinated, self-isolate, or care for a family member. What’s more, if the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is extended, workers in Ontario will have access to the most generous paid sick days program in Canada.

HRD spoke to Michael Horvat, partner at Aird & Berlis, to understand what this extension means for Ontario businesses and their people.

“Generally, the extension of the layoff protection is not new, and has been periodically extended during the pandemic,” Horvat told HRD. “The goal is to not artificially create a statutory severance ‘cliff’ at which time, at least for employment standards notice or severance. That would mean the statutory triggering creates an obligation to pay notice or severance prematurely, which causes the problem the government wants to avoid and is potentially placing those businesses in jeopardy of a financial risk that would then push them over.”

This extension will mean employees can take time off work to get their booster shots and get their children vaccinates – without the threat of having their wages cut. According to the government, the Worker Income Protection Benefit has already helped one quarter of a million of Canadians stay safe without loosing pay.

“The second extension of extending paid COVID-19 days into 2022 is likely a simple indication that once a benefit is given (paid days off) it’s difficult for the government to remove them,” added Horvat. “In the context of the continuing pandemic, this will be viewed as a positive action from the government. Should numbers get better and we, hopefully, turn the corner on the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if there is not a further extension or permanency given to the paid day benefit as this government heads into an election.”

Bill 27

It's been a year of monumental change for Canadian employment law – from sick leave to CERB to right to disconnect. Earlier this month, the government passed Bill 27, or the Working for Workers Act, which focused on the elimination of individual contracts of employment permitting a post-employment noncompetition restriction, and the right to ‘disconnect’ from work.

Speaking to HRD in an earlier interview, Horvat shed light on what this means for employers moving forward into 2022 – and why the right to disconnect may not be the best move for businesses.

“I think the right to disconnect is coming from a good place,” Horvat told HRD. “There are individuals in workplaces who are being constantly called on after work. And these are not necessarily senior people. Therefore, they’re completing a lot of uncompensated work after hours. In that sense, the change could work. However, the majority of people being contacted outside of their working hours are likely senior employees, or who must be in constant contact given their positions, or who choose that work structure – and they’re being properly compensated for that time.”

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