After months of pressure, Ontario has enacted a new (limited) form of paid sick leave tied to COVID-19. Who qualifies? How do you access it? This post tells you everything you need to know about Ontario’s new paid sick leave.
What is Ontario’s new paid sick leave?
The question really is: “What is it not?” The new provision is not paid sick leave, at least not as most people think about it. Rather, it is a supplement to the Employment Standards Act’s Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) rules.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government created IDEL to provide for unpaid job protected leaves from work for individuals dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the unpaid IDEL rules, you can take time off work in six circumstances related to designated infectious diseases, including COVID-19. These include when you are required to self-isolate, are under medical care, or are caring for a child due to school or childcare closures. You can read our previous post on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave here.
Under the new legislation, called the COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, 2021, workers in Ontario are entitled to up to three days of paid job-protected leave for any of the following reasons:
- You are under individual medical investigation, supervision or treatment (including being vaccinated or recovering from vaccination) for COVID-19;
- You are acting in accordance with an order under ss. 22 or 35 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act (e.g. your workplace is shut down due to an outbreak and you are directed to self-isolate);
- You are in quarantine or isolation, or are subject to a control measure (including but not limited to self-isolation) as a result of information or directions related to COVID-19 issued to the public or to specific individuals by a public health official, health care practitioner, or government body;
- Your employer directs you to stay away from work due to a concern that you may expose others to COVID-19;
- You are providing care to a family member who is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID, or is under quarantine or isolation, or subject to a control measure.
You should note that this list does not include workers who are providing support for a relative due to other reasons related to COVID-19, like providing childcare support during school closures.
Who is eligible for benefits under the new paid sick leave?
The new paid sick leave is available to employees in provincially-regulated workplaces. If you work in a federally-regulated workplace, you cannot access Ontario’s new paid sick leave. If you’re unsure if your employer is provincially or federally-regulated, check out this site. For information on leave options available to federal employees, check out this blog post.
What am I entitled to under Ontario’s new paid sick leave?
You are not necessarily entitled to full pay under the new program. You’re entitled to the lesser of your normal rate of pay and $200 per day. Your normal rate of pay for the purposes of this section ignores entitlements to overtime pay, or premium pay for working on a public holiday.
Your entitlement to the new paid sick leave is in addition to unpaid IDEL.
An important caveat: If you are entitled to paid leave under your employment contract that covers any of the circumstances covered by the new paid sick leave and if it pays as much as the new sick leave, then your three paid sick days are reduced by the number of days available under your employment contract. For instance, if you’re entitled to two paid sick days under your employment contract at your regular rate of pay, then you will only be entitled to one additional day through the new sick leave.
When can I claim it?
The new legislation was passed on April 29, 2021, but the entitlement is retroactive to April 19, 2021. If you’ve already taken leave that falls within the scope of the new paid sick leave, then you may claim your pay by informing your employer of your choice in writing. You must give notice to your employer by May 13, 2021.
The new paid sick leave is currently set to expire on September 25, 2021, although this period may be extended by regulation.
How can I claim it?
If you take an infectious disease emergency leave day that qualifies under the new paid leave, you are presumed to use one of your paid days, rather than an unpaid day. You can choose to use an unpaid day and save your paid days, but you need to tell your employer in writing prior to the end of the pay period in which you take the leave.
Other provisions of the Employment Standards Act governing IDEL or leaves generally apply to the new paid sick leave. Notably:
- You are required to provide evidence of entitlement to the leave that is reasonable in the circumstances, at a time that is reasonable, but your employer can’t require you to provide a doctor’s note as evidence; and
- While on the new paid sick leave, you continue to participate in pension, life, accidental death, extended health and dental plans, and your employer must continue to make its contributions.
Is Ontario’s new paid sick leave paid by my employer?
No. Employers who make payments to their employees under the new paid sick leave may apply to the WSIB for reimbursement up to a maximum of $200 per day of leave taken per employee. The Ministry of Labour will then reimburse the WSIB. Don’t worry if your employer does not pay into the WSIB. You are still entitled to the leave (and your employer is still entitled to reimbursement).