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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sultan Lawyers is providing periodic feedback to bring clarity to important matters for the labour market. This will take the form of the latest insights and recommendations based on the latest information.

Our first feedback relates to leave from work, COVID-19, and pay.

Do employers in Ontario need to pay employees who are in quarantine?

The short answer is no.

Unless an employer has agreed in a contract to pay employees who are on leave/ill, an employee is not entitled to be paid while not working (whether for illness, quarantine, or otherwise). This is because Ontario’s employment laws do not require that employers pay employees for any scenario in which an employee is not working.

While increasing pressure is being placed on many employers (notably those that are considered publicly high-profile) to pay employees who are on quarantine through campaigns of “naming and shaming”, the reality is that the laws respecting pay and leaves remain the same as they have been with respect to other illness leaves. Simply put, employers have the right to choose whether to pay those on leave.

While some companies have the financial strength to pay, the reality is that many others (often small to medium-sized businesses) simply cannot afford to provide full wages to employees on leave without sustaining significant economic damage and potentially necessitating more extreme measures such as layoffs/terminations of employment.

What recourse does an employee have if they are not being paid while on leave?

The Canadian government recently announced changes to Canada’s sick leave benefits under the Employment Insurance (EI) program in response to the concerns relating to COVID-19. The following describes the EI regime and what specific changes have been made to address COVID-19.

EI Sick Leave Benefits

Under EI’s regular regime, eligible workers with either limited or no employer-paid leave can apply for up to fifteen (15) weeks of employment Insurance (“EI”) if they cannot work for medical reasons (including injury, long-term illness, etc.).

A worker who qualifies for benefits under EI is normally subject to a one-week waiting period before they become eligible to receive payments.

Changes for COVID-19

In response to COVID-19, the government has announced that individuals who are quarantined/ill in relation to the virus will no longer be subject to the one (1) week waiting period. This means that individuals who are under quarantine will receive EI benefits for the entire period.

Is a doctor’s note necessary to receive EI benefits?

In normal circumstances, a doctor’s note is required to be eligible for sick leave benefits.

However, a spokesperson for the Employment Minister has confirmed that the government is waiving the requirement of a doctor’s note for individuals who are required to enter quarantine under law and/or further to the directions of a public-health official.

Employees who are placed under quarantine as a result of instructions from their employer (when public-health officials recommend it), will also be entitled to coverage.

The government has also set up specific hotlines intended to respond to inquiries relating to COVID-19 and is prioritizing the cases to ensure as fast a response as possible.

Assessment Centres

In response to the rapid outbreak of COVID-19, Ontario will be opening six assessment centres so that individuals can go to a separate location to be tested for COVID-19. These assessment centres will be opening at the following locations:

  • Peel Memorial Hospital in Brampton
  • The Ottawa Hospital
  • North York General Hospital
  • McKenzie Health (Richmond Hill)
  • Within the Scarborough Health Network; and
  • Within the Trillium Health Partners network in Mississauga.

The province has also implemented a new approved physician billing code which allows doctors to conduct any assessments with respect to COVID-19 over the phone.

If you have any questions relating to your employment including in relation to orders respecting work, layoffs, termination of employment, or otherwise, please contact Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com or here. We can provide clarity relating to employment rights

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