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Ontario passes two pieces of legislation to protect workers, municipalities during COVID-19

Thursday, March 19, 2020 @ 3:18 PM | By Amanda Jerome

On March 19, the government of Ontario passed two pieces of legislation in response to growing concerns over COVID-19 and its impact on workers.

According to a government release, the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 provides “job-protected leave for employees who are in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, or those who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day care closures or to care for other relatives.”

The release explained that these measures are “retroactive to January 25, 2020, the date the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario. The legislation will also make it clear employees cannot be required to show sick notes.”

According to a press release, the Act provides job protection for employees unable to work for the following reasons:
  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19.
  • The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
  • The employee is in isolation or quarantine in accordance with public health information or direction.
  • The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace.
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or daycare closure.
  • The employee is prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions.

And an employee will be able to take infectious disease emergency leave to care for the following individuals:
  • The employee’s spouse.
  • A parent, stepparent or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • A child, stepchild or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • A child who is under legal guardianship of the employee or the employee’s spouse. 
  • A brother, stepbrother, sister or stepsister of the employee.
  • A grandparent, stepgrandparent, grandchild or stepgrandchild of the employee or the employee’s spouse. 
  • A brother-in-law, stepbrother-in-law, sister-in-law or stepsister-in-law of the employee.
  • A son-in-law or daughter-in-law of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • An uncle or aunt of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • A nephew or niece of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • The spouse of the employee’s grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece.
  • A person who considers the employee to be like a family member, provided the prescribed conditions, if any, are met.
  • Any individual prescribed as a family member for the purposes of this section.

The other piece of legislation is the Municipal Emergency Act, 2020, which will “ensure that for the near future, the delivery of goods to Ontario’s businesses and consumers isn’t impacted by municipal noise bylaws that may unintentionally be impeding such deliveries when they are most urgently needed.”

The government release explained that this legislation also gives municipalities “the ability to fully conduct council, local board and committee meetings electronically when faced with local and provincewide emergencies, empowering the government’s municipal partners to respond quickly when in-person meetings cannot be held.”

These two pieces of legislation were unanimously passed by 26 MPPS who convened for an emergency sitting at Queen’s Park. According to a government release the number of MPPS was “intentionally kept small in order to practice social distancing and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. A first in Ontario history.”

“During this time of great uncertainty, the last thing employees should have to worry about is job security,” said Monte McNaughton, minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, in a statement.

“People can't be punished for following the advice of our leading medical health professionals,” McNaughton added.

Steve Clark, minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said in a statement that these changes will “assist in getting goods to market in a more expeditious manner.”

“Our government wants to do everything we can to help connect distribution centres with grocery stores and pharmacies to replenish empty shelves more quickly. As well, we are helping communities respond to this crisis by allowing councils to conduct meetings remotely. These changes empower municipalities to respond quickly and continue to function when in-person meetings cannot be held, and council decisions need to be made,” he added.

Premier Doug Ford thanked all parties for “coming together to pass this important legislation so we can deliver immediate relief to Ontario workers and families.”

“The health and safety of the people of Ontario is our number one priority and that’s why we are protecting the jobs of workers and making sure that essentials like groceries, household basics and medicine can arrive on store shelves. We must work together as Team Ontario to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve,” he said in a statement.