In Ontario, personal emergency leave (PEL) has changed a lot in the last two years. If you’re finding it difficult to keep up, you’re not alone.
In 2018, Bill 148 introduced changes to personal leave in Ontario. This included two paid personal emergency leave days, with up to 10 days total being available. Later that year, with a new provincial government, the rules changed again. Employees were entitled to a total of 10 unpaid days.
In the wake of COVID-19 and the invocation of the Emergency Act, more employees may now be entitled to PEL. Employers may also have questions about what counts as “reasonable in the circumstances” proof in the middle of a pandemic.
Thankfully there are answers to help you balance employer and employee rights during this uncertain time.
Bill 148 left intact most of the reasons an employee might take PEL. Common reasons include:
In 2019, Bill 47 separated the 10 days of PEL into three separate types of leave. These are bereavement leave, family responsibility leave, and sick leave. These days are not prorated, and any employee may take them after working for a minimum of two weeks.
In 2020, as the coronavirus crisis spread across the globe, Ontario enacted the Emergency Act. This introduced a new type of PEL: declared emergency leave.
This leave exists under Section 50.1 of the Employment Standards Act, 2000. The Act states that employers must give employees impacted by the declared emergency an unpaid, job-protected leave.
Within the context of COVID-19, employees would qualify if they were:
Employees who need to care for family members, such as a spouse, sibling, or grandparent, can take infectious disease leave.
Employers can also ask employees not to come in, instead offering unpaid leave, in the event the employee may have been exposed to COVID-19.
When an employee notifies an employer they intend to use personal emergency leave, employers may ask for proof of need for the leave. In the case of bereavement, for example, this could include a copy of an obituary or death certificate. Other “reasonable in the circumstances” proof may include:
In 2018, Bill 148 had eliminated employers’ ability to ask for medical notes to prove sick leave. This was reversed in 2019 with Bill 47.
In connection with infectious disease leave and declared emergency leave, employers can still ask for reasonable proof. If an employee says they have been impacted by travel restrictions, for example, you might ask to see proof of a cancelled flight. An employee who needs to look after their children may be asked to present a note stating that the school or daycare has been closed due to the Emergency Act.
Employers cannot ask for medical notes to support an employee’s request for emergency leave due to COVID-19. Employees must still request the time off, so you may be informed that they have tested positive or are under investigation. Requesting medical proof at this time will place additional burdens on the healthcare system. It could also discourage sick employees who cannot receive a test from staying home and preventing the spread.
Employers may also wish to use discretion when requesting proof for bereavement leave. The Government of Ontario recommends asking not only for “reasonable in circumstances” proof, but also asking for that proof when it is reasonable given the circumstances.
As Ontarians move to flatten the curve and eventually shift to the post-pandemic world, the landscape around personal emergency leave will change yet again. It makes sense for employers like you to consult with the back-office experts. With the right advice, you’ll be ready to adapt to a shifting employment landscape.