Ontario passes 2 worker-protection laws in response to COVID-19

But union says job-protected leave is no good if workers can’t afford to use it

Ontario passes 2 worker-protection laws in response to COVID-19

The Ontario government passed two pieces of employment-protection laws on March 19 in response to COVID-19.

The legislation is aimed at protecting jobs of employees who self-isolate or quarantine, while helping to keep store shelves stocked and giving municipal councils the flexibility to continue operations electronically.

The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 provides job-protected leave to employees who are in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, or who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day care closures or to care for other relatives. These measures are retroactive to Jan. 25, the date the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario.

The legislation also mandated that employees cannot be required to show sick notes, says the government.

The Saskatchewan government also passed laws recently that strengthened workers’ rights during an emergency and it removed the requirement that 13 consecutive weeks of employment be completed before employees can access sick leave.

Union unhappy with changes

However, Ontario’s act does not include 21 paid emergency sick leave days, which is crucial in protecting workers’ jobs, according to the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).

“Job-protected leave is no good if workers can’t afford to use it,” says Patty Coates, OFL president. “The government must make it possible for workers to follow the advice of the chief medical officer, and practise social distancing and self-isolation to slow the spread of this virus. Unless all workers have paid emergency leave and other supports so they can take recommended precautions without financial hardship, Ontario’s ability to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic will be impeded.”

“The premier continues to say that workers should stay home when sick, when he knows very well that it is impossible for workers to follow that directive if they do not have paid leave and other supports,” says Coates.

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