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As Canadians continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, both the federal and provincial governments have and continue to develop and implement new laws and initiatives aimed at supporting Canadians and the labour market.

Most recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a desire to implement a more robust paid sick leave policy across the provinces and territories, which includes ten (10) days of paid sick leave per year. The goal of extending and/or standardizing current sick leave provisions across the country is to encourage employees to stay home without the fear or anxiety of lost wages or termination of their employment.

This blog explores the current legislation behind sick leave provisions and the intention behind extending paid sick leave to all employees across Canada.

What are the current laws on sick leave?

With the vast majority of Canada’s employment standards regulated at the provincial level, sick leave laws across the country vary. An employee is typically entitled to sick leave due to personal illness, injury or a medical emergency. However, in general, sick leaves tend to be unpaid.

In Ontario, employees protected under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) have the right to take up to three (3) full days of unpaid job-protected leave per year, whether they are employed on a part-time or full-time basis. This entitlement is not pro-rated, meaning that an employee who begins working partway through the year is still entitled to the full three (3) days of sick leave for the remainder of that year.

An employer is entitled to treat an employee who takes only part of a day as a sick leave as a full day of leave.

In Ontario, unused sick leave days cannot be carried over to the next calendar year.

Why the change?

As discussed, the goal of extending current sick leave policies and implementing ten (10) days of paid leave is to encourage employees to stay home when ill. The goal would also be to mitigate against any further spread of the COVID-19 virus.

By giving employees greater access to paid sick leave, more employees will be encouraged to stay home should they fall ill. This will be particularly important where an employee exhibits flu-like symptoms, given that many of those symptoms resemble those of the COVID-19 virus.

By expanding the sick leave entitlement and ensuring that it is paid, the government is hoping that employees will be encouraged to address their health needs without having to choose between taking an unpaid day off of work or being able to meet their financial obligations. The medical and economic impact of a potential second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is too significant for employees to attend the workplace while ill, placing both themselves and others at risk.

Considerations

Should this legislation pass, employers will want to consider updating employment contracts, internal policies, and employee handbooks to ensure compliance with any changes to the legislation. Employers may also want to consider flexible work-from-home arrangements that encourage employees who fall ill but feel comfortable remaining productive at home to do so.

Employees should also try to remain up to date regarding the latest policy changes to ensure that their rights are protected. Specifically, and given the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment standards and related laws are rapidly evolving.

Employees should nevertheless exercise their right to sick leave in the interim. This is because employees benefit from protection under both employment standards and related human rights legislation within the applicable provincial jurisdiction or at the federal level, whichever applies.

If you have any questions relating to sick leave or COVID-19 and your employment, whether you are currently employed, have been temporarily laid off, or wrongfully dismissed, please contact Toronto employment lawyers Sultan Lawyers at 416-214-5111 or via email at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com.


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