Last week, the Ontario government introduced a paid sick leave program for employees. This occurred after COVID-19 numbers in Ontario kept rising. Ontario residents have also kept demanding guaranteed paid sick days for months. The government of Ontario finally gave in and announced a temporary program on April 27. How does this program work? And what other programs are employees eligible for if they fall sick with the COVID-19 virus?

The Legislation

The Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development introduced the new legislation, called the Worker Income Protection Benefit, on April 29. The legislation, which mandates three sick days for eligible employees, passed right away. However, opposition parties demanded at least 10 paid days of sick leave. It remains to be seen if Ontario will increase the number of legislated paid sick days.

How Does the Paid Sick Leave Program Work?

The legislation mandates that employers provide up to three days of sick leave. Employers will have to pay up to $200 per day for each of those three days if employees miss work due to COVID-19. Employers will be reimbursed for these three sick days by the provincial government. However, the program is temporary. It will be retroactive to April 19, 2021 and effective until September 25, 2021, the date the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) will expire.

This program will be administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). The WSIB will deliver the program and reimburse employers up to $200 per day for their workers’ COVID-19 sick leave.

What are the Eligibility Criteria for the Worker Income Protection Benefit?

Employees are only eligible for the three days of sick leave if:

  • The employees are covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA) (therefore, independent contractors or federally regulated employees would not qualify); and
  • The employees do not already receive paid sick time through their employer.

One thing to note is that employers cannot require an employee to provide a sick note or a certificate from a doctor in order to qualify.

When is Paid Leave Under the Worker Income Protection Benefit Available?

Paid leave is only available for certain reasons associated with COVID-19, which include:

  • If the employee is going for a COVID-19 test;
  • If the employee is staying home awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test;
  • If the employee is sick with COVID-19;
  • If the employee is going to get vaccinated;
  • If the employee is experiencing a side effect from a COVID-19 vaccination;
  • If the employee was advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19 by an employer, medical practitioner, or other authority; and
  • If the employee is taking care of a dependent who is:
    • sick with COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19; and/or
    • self-isolating due to COVID-19.

What Other Benefits Are Employees Who Contract COVID-19 Eligible For?

Employees are also eligible for the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (the CRSB), which is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Eligible employees can receive up to $500 for a one-week period, which is reduced to $450 after taxes are withheld. Should the employee, or self-employed person, require more than one week of assistance, the employee may re-apply each week as needed for up to four weeks. The eligibility period runs between September 27, 2020 and September 25, 2021.

Employees must pass the eligibility criteria in order to qualify for the benefit. The criteria mandates that the employee is unable to work at least 50 percent of their scheduled work week because they’re self-isolating for one of the following reasons:

  • The employee is sick with COVID-19 or may have COVID-19;
  • The employee was advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19;
  • The employee has an underlying health condition that puts the employee at greater risk of getting COVID-19.

However, it is not enough for an employee to feel sick and decide to stay home. There has to be an authority that advised the employee that they have to stay home. Those authorities include:

  • A medical practitioner;
  • A nurse practitioner;
  • A person in authority;
  • The government; and
  • The employee’s public health authority.

An employee can only apply for the benefit if they did not apply for or receive other benefits in the same time period, and those benefits include:

  • The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB);
  • The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB);
  • The short-term disability benefits;
  • The Employment Insurance (EI) benefits; or
  • The Québec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) benefits.

Further requirements to be eligible for the CRSB include:

  • The employee resides in Canada;
  • The employee was present in Canada;
  • The employee was at least 15 years old;
  • The employee has a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN);
  • The employee earned at least $5,000 in 2019, 2020, or in the 12 months before the date the employee applied from any of the following sources:
    • employment income (total or gross pay);
    • net self-employment income (after deducting expenses); or
    • maternity and parental benefits from EI or similar QPIP benefits.

An employee will not be eligible for the CRSB if:

  • The employee received paid leave from the employer for the same period; or
  • The employee was not self-isolating or in quarantine due to international travel.

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto for Information on Ontario’s New Mandatory Sick Days

Ontario employees who fall ill with COVID-19 can apply for either the Worker Income Protection Benefit or the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. Employees should familiarize themselves with the eligibility criteria before applying.

For advice on employee rights, employer liability and other employment or labour 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.