The Canadian News



Ontario extends sick leave program until March 2023

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, July 21, 2022 11:08AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 21, 2022 7:17PM EDT

A pandemic program offering Ontario workers three days of paid sick leave is being extended until the end of March, a move the government said is meant to ensure people don’t miss out on pay due to COVID-19.

The province announced the extension Thursday, just over a week before the temporary program had been set to expire.

Employers are reimbursed by the government for the paid leave days. Eligible workers can receive up to $200 per day for up to three days for pandemic-related absences like testing, vaccination, isolation or caring for relatives who are ill with the virus.

Premier Doug Ford’s government first announced the temporary sick leave plan in the spring of 2021 after facing growing calls to bring in such a policy to minimize workplace spread of COVID-19.

Opposition parties and other critics, however, have been calling for the government to expand the program by offering more days.

Deputy NDP leader Sol Mamakwa said Thursday that the program should offer up to 10 days to ensure people have enough time to recover from a COVID-19 infection.

“We need more days,” he said.

Nurse Justine Champagne raised a similar point at a health-care union news conference on Thursday.

She said she was off work for more than three days when she got sick with COVID-19, and argued that people returning to work before they’re fully recovered could lead to more staffing shortages.

“Just three days’ sick leave is definitely not enough to allow us to recover and return back to work,” she said.

A group of small and medium business owners also published an open letter to Labour Minister Monte McNaughton on the paid sick days issue on Thursday, calling for changes to the program.

Their letter raised concerns about a potential fall wave of infections and the spread of more infectious variants of the virus that can easily reinfect people.

The group called for the sick days program to become permanent, to cover illnesses besides COVID-19 and for employee eligibility to reset so people can use sick days if they get ill again.

Sam Conover, owner of Broad Lingerie in Toronto, said her company already offered employees five paid sick days, and started offering an additional two weeks to her sick leave program during the pandemic.

Conover said she supports the government extending the program but would like to see it enhanced so that small businesses like her’s would benefit more.

“I am very happy to pay for paid sick days out of my pocket, and I will continue to do so, but it would be great to have that support extended to us,” she said in an interview.

The government said any employer would be reimbursed if their employees chose to access the provincial program.

Conover said illness-related shutdowns would last longer if staff came to work sick and infect others, noting that workers aren’t able to function as well on the job when ill. Offering paid sick days also helps retain employees, she said.

“From my perspective, obviously, it’s a moral issue, I just think it’s a smart idea to treat people like humans,’ she said. “But it also makes good business sense.”

Gilleen Pearce, who also signed the letter to McNaughton, runs a small IT support company with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. She said her company started offering 10 paid sick days in 2017 and allows people to take more sick days if they need it.

Like Conover, she said offering paid sick days has helped her business function and made employees more willing to stay. She argued that legislated general paid sick days, rather than a temporary program for just one illness, would simplify the process and remove the uncertainty that the pandemic program would expire.

“It shouldn’t really be a big, separate bureaucratic government program that people need to apply for,” she said.

A spokesman for McNaughton said nearly 500,000 workers have accessed the program so far and said the extension would allow more people to take COVID-19-related absences “while having the confidence they’ll still be paid.

“We promised our supports would remain in place as long as they are needed to keep workers and their families safe from COVID-19,” Harry Godfrey said in a written statement. “We are keeping our promise and will always have workers’ backs.”

– with files from Paola Loriggio. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first

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