The Ontario government has now announced, as anticipated, that all public schools will remain closed through to the end of the current school year. Daycare services presently remain closed, with a similar impact on employees. Daycare providers are forbidden from charging users for fees while the province remains under an emergency order. This will obviously impact the ability of many workers to return to active employment, which is particularly important as Ontario begins to gradually lift the restrictions presently facing innumerable employers.

Certain workers are eligible for emergency child care. These persons generally work in positions that are seen as critical services, such as health care workers, police and firefighters. Also included are people working in grocery stores and pharmacies. The full list of positions eligible for emergency child care can be found here. This emergency service does not apply to employees working in federally-regulated businesses.

Statutory Protection

Although at this stage it is not clear, one issue to be monitored will be the protection given by the recent statutory amendment to workers unable to work due to child care concerns. Presumably, this will apply only through to the end of the typical school year and not the summer holiday period. This will likely hinge upon the definition of the emergency period for which this protection has been given. The present date for the emergency extension is June 2. It can be extended by 14 days by the Premier without legislative approval and by 28 days with legislative agreement.

This is obviously an important issue and a major concern for many people as employers begin to look ahead to reopening physical locations with an expectation that employees will return. We will continue to monitor this situation and advise as to further government action to extend or eliminate the emergency period. This will also have a significant impact on the revised section of the Employment Standards Act, which has created new job protection rights for persons adversely affected by the coronavirus.

The Process

The Ontario Government has now provided a broad range of the three stages of getting back to business, which will be defined more concretely as the province keeps its eyes on the progress that is being made on the number of reported new cases. The details of the first stage appeared in our most recent post. The second stage is intended to apply to the service sector, retail workers and persons working in an office environment. The third stage will relate to the remaining segments of the economy.

The government has also issued safety guidelines for specific sectors of the economy, including food processing, restaurants and other foodservice businesses, agriculture, manufacturing and long-term care facilities. There is, in addition, a general guideline for management and executive positions.

If you believe your industry or position requires specific guidelines which have yet to be considered, the Jobs and Recovery Committee responsible for overseeing the reopening process requests your input. You can complete a survey found at this link to submit your concerns. The deadline date for your submission is June 12.

Wage Subsidy Revisions

Canada has announced an extension of the time period for the wage subsidy which will now extend for an additional 12 weeks, through to the end of August. Also, the government has broadened the definition of an ‘eligible employer’, which will now include certain private schools, such as arts schools, driving schools and others. In addition, the definition of eligible employee has also been enhanced. Full details can be found here.

Get Advice and Know Your Rights

The decision to re-open the economy is obviously a difficult one. The province will, as mentioned, be cautious about entering the successive stages of this process to ensure the safety of all workers. Even when opened, as noted, guidelines must be followed to ensure protections for employees and clients or customers of the businesses. All parties will see a common goal of public safety. These are awkward moments for employers and employees alike, and there will no doubt be a learning curve. We remain by your side to provide real-time practical insight to the law and your position, whether you are an employer or employee.

For advice on this issue and all employment law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.