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Provincial paid COVID-19 sick-leave program ends on March 31

Province appears ready to cancel the program that provided up to three days of pay for workers who needed to self-isolate, get a vaccination or look after sick family members

Ontario's paid COVID-19 sick days program is due to expire at the end of next week (March 31, 2023). Although the program has been extended in the past, there is no expectation that it will happen again.

The program, which amended the provincial Employment Standards Act (ESA) in April 2021, required employers to provide eligible workers with up to three days of paid time off for reasons related to COVID-19.

The change allowed that employees in non-unionized workplaces were deemed to be on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave rather than being dismissed if their work hours were temporarily reduced or eliminated because of the pandemic. 

The province said this would allow eligible workers to get up to $200 a day – for up to three days – if they need to get tested, get vaccinated, get booster shots, to self-isolate or to care for a family member who was ill from COVID-19.

The change in the act set out two types of Infectious Disease Emergency Leave: paid leave and unpaid leave. Paid leave was for a period of up to three days.

For employees who chose an extended unpaid emergency infectious disease leave, their employers could not threaten, fire or penalize the employees for doing so. The province said employees who took unpaid infectious disease emergency leave and/or paid infectious disease emergency leave are generally entitled to the same rights as employees who take pregnancy or parental leave.

The program was extended last summer when the government added an eight-month extension to the end of March. The province said employers can apply to be reimbursed for the payments to their employees through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board within 120 days of the date the employer paid the employee, or by July 29, 2023, whichever is earlier. 

Previous versions of the act said there was no limit to the amount of time an employee could be on unpaid leave. That could be changed and workers who continue to be on unpaid leave may qualify for other forms of leave listed in the Employment Standards Act.