Changes to the Ontario Employment Standards Act during the “COVID-19 Period”

Changes to the Ontario Employment Standards Act during the “COVID-19 Period”

In order to adapt to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Ontario government made a regulation that changed certain aspects of the Employment Standards Act rules during this “COVID-19 period”. The COVID-19 period extends from March 1, 2020 to January 2, 2021.

During the COVID-19 period:

  • a non-unionized employee whose employer has temporarily reduced or eliminated their hours of work for reasons related to COVID-19 is deemed to be on a job-protected infectious disease emergency leave,
  • a non-unionized employee is not considered to be laid-off if their employer temporarily reduces or eliminates their hours of work or wages for reasons related to COVID-19, and
  • a non-unionized employee is not considered to be constructively dismissed under the ESA if their employer temporarily reduces or eliminates their hours of work or wages for reasons related to COVID-19.

So, what does this mean and how does can it affect you?

In short, it means you cannot turn to the Government for protection if your pay or hours of work are reduced. The aforementioned changes allow employers to cite COVID-19 as the basis to temporarily reduce wages or hours of work. These employee will not be entitled to severance pay under the ESA but are rather treated as on an unpaid leave of absence.

Previously, under the ESA, after 13-20 weeks, a temporary lay-off automatically becomes a termination. As a result, many employees who were laid-off at the start of the pandemic in March and who have not yet returned to work would now qualify for severance pay. The changes to the legislation now deem these employees on an unpaid leave of absence for the time being instead.

It is important to note, however, that these changes do not affect civil proceedings. This means temporary lay-offs/reductions in pay or hours can still constitute constructive dismissal and employees can still claim damages through the courts rather than filing claims with the Ministry of Labour.

If you or someone you know have been affected by the new legislation, please contact us at JEWELL RADIMISIS JORGE LL.P for a free consultation.

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