Ontario Temporarily Changes Layoff Rules
Ontario is temporarily amending its labour laws to help businesses avoid permanently laying off workers and paying out severance during the pandemic. On June 1, the government announced amendments the Employment Standards Act, which currently requires businesses to terminate employees who have been laid off for 13 weeks. The law then requires companies to pay severance to those workers, which the government fears could bankrupt some businesses.
The change will see non-unionized workers who have had their hours reduced or eliminated placed on a temporary leave that preserves their job. Workers will still be eligible for federal emergency income support programs. “We’ve heard loud and clear from employers that they don’t want to be forced to terminate their employees,” Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said in a statement. “We have to step in to make sure workers have jobs to return to.”
The amendment will expire six weeks after the province’s declared state of emergency ends.The amendment will apply retroactively to March 1 and does not include unionized workers who are covered by collective agreements.
In May, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said an estimated 1.1 million workers in the province have lost their jobs, and another 1.1 million have seen their hours sharply reduced. According to Statistics Canada, Ontario lost 689,200 jobs in April, bringing its employment down to the lowest level since 2009. The province’s unemployment rate climbed to 11.3%, the highest it has been since 1993. Small and medium-sized businesses, and groups that advocate on their behalf, had been asking for the temporary change to the province’s labour laws.
The province has also announced legislation to ban employers from requiring sick notes for those in self-isolation or quarantine. It will also ensure protected leave for workers who have to take unpaid leave to isolate themselves or care for others, such as children not in school. The government has said those measures will be retroactive to Jan. 25.
Ontario Extends State of Emergency Until June 30 After It Reports 446 New COVID-19 Cases
The Ontario legislature voted on June to extend the state of emergency until June 30. The vote came after the Ontario health ministry reported 446 additional cases of COVID-19, a number that represents a 1.6% increase in total cases.
Ontario declared a state of emergency on March 17 as COVID-19 cases began to climb in the province. Ontario’s emergency measure bans gatherings larger than five people. It also orders the closure of some businesses such as restaurants and bars, except if they offer takeout or delivery.
At a news conference on June 2, Premier Ford said the extension does not mean plans to reopen the province will remain on hold. Ford said his government is continuing to work on a plan for a regional, phased approach to reopening. “We need a plan that recognizes the reality on the ground, in different parts of our province,” Ford told reporters. He advocated for a “plan that will help us re-open safely without taking unnecessary risks,” adding that a second wave of the virus “is possible, so we must remain vigilant.”