OFL responds to Ontario employment standards act amendment
By Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk
The Ontario Legislature has passed the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 in an effort to provide job-protected leave to employees in isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19, or those who must stay home from work to care for children or other family members.
The legislation provides job protection for employees who cannot work for a number of reasons, which can be found here. That backgrounder also provides more information on who an employee can take emergency leave to care for.
The Act also states that an employee is not required to provide a doctor’s note if they need to take medical leave. However, the employer may require the employee to provide other evidence, such as a note from the daycare or evidence that a flight was cancelled, but not a medical note.
The government notes that these measures are retroactive to January 25, 2020, the date the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in the province. These measures will remain active until COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
The measures protect most employees and employers, whether they work full-time, part-time, temporary help agency assignment employees or casual workers. It does not apply, however, to people in sectors that fall under federal jurisdiction, including those that work at banks, airports, inter-provincial and international rail, and federal crown corporations.
However, despite these measures being put into place, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), which represents 54 unions and one million Ontario workers, released a statement following the announcement of the legislation amendment, expressing hope that these measures were just a first step toward protecting people in the province.
“This legislation leaves out essential elements that will protect all Ontario workers and vulnerable people in this province, most notably 21 paid emergency leave days,” said the OFL in the statement.
“Job-protected leave is no good if workers can’t afford to use it. The government must make it possible for workers to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, and practice 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,” said Patty Coates, OFL president.
Coates goes on to add that this emergency legislation does not apply to all workers; front-line workers need safety and protection, too. She says the government must ensure that all public services are properly funded, accessible and affordable for all workers in essential services.
“Needed supports should be available to all, regardless of their status, immediately and without barriers, so everyone can take care of their health and the safety of their families and communities,” added Coates.
The release says that “while Ford’s emergency provisions take modest first steps…it still leaves far too many without needed protections.” It goes on to remind workers that they have a right to refuse what they believe to be unsafe work, and that employers are required by law to take every reasonable precaution to ensure safe and healthy workplaces.
“Labour, community, and migrant organizations are the voice of workers in this province and must be at the table and involved in creating, planning, and implementing a COVID-19 response that will work for all Ontarians, and to ensure that no one is left behind”, adds the OFL statement.
In an effort to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, the OFL recently sent a letter to the Premier outlining recommendations for the Ontario government to follow to support workers.