Infectious Disease Emergency Leave: The New Kid on the Block

Hena Singh & Stefan Rosenbaum

On March 19, 2020, the Ontario government passed Bill 186 which amended the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) to add the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave to ensure that employees had a job protected leave if they were not able to work for COVID-19 related reasons (child care, personal medical reasons, quarantine, caring for specific family members, etc.).

On May 29, 2020, the Ontario government announced changes to the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave that places employees on a job protected leave in situations where they are “laid off” or their hours temporarily reduced by their employer due to COVID-19.  The purpose of these much-anticipated changes is to ensure businesses aren’t forced to terminate employees after their ESA temporary layoff periods have expired.  It also ensures that employees are entitled to return to their pre-COVID-19 job if it exists, or a comparable job.

Consequently, a reduction or elimination of hours or a reduction of wages for employees as a result of COVID-19 does not trigger a temporary layoff or constructive dismissal. This change applies retroactively to any reductions of hours or wages after March 1, 2020.

This job protected leave will last for the duration of the state of emergency and for six weeks after.

These changes come as a huge relief to employers and employees who have been anxiously wondering if they will be forced to terminate their staff, or if they themselves would lose their jobs because of restrictions relating to the pandemic that were outside of everyone’s control.