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Sick Leave Ontario: An Employer’s Guide to Creating a Sick Leave Policy

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At a news conference on November 14, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, recommended that Ontarians start wearing masks indoors. The announcement came following a recent outbreak of a trifecta of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV—all actively circulating across Ontario and contributing to the pressures on the province’s pediatric healthcare system.

With the surge in illnesses and winter around the corner, it’s crucial that employers have a sick leave policy in place. This blog answers some common questions employers may have about creating a sick leave policy.

What is sick leave?

Sick days or sick leave in Ontario is an unpaid, job-protected leave that your employees are entitled to take for any personal illness, injury, or medical emergency.

What is the length of sick leave in Ontario?

All provincially regulated employers must provide their staff (whether full-time or part-time) with three sick days in a calendar year.

What is the eligibility for availing sick days in Ontario?

Employees can use their Ontario sick leave after they have worked for an employer for at least two consecutive weeks. They are not required to take all three sick days consecutively.

What should sick days be used for?

Sick leave may be taken for any personal illness, injury, or medical emergency. Ontarians cannot use this leave to take care of ill or injured family members, however, there are other leaves employees can take for this reason.

Employees can also use sick leave for pre-planned (elective) surgery, if it is for an illness or injury. But sick leave cannot be availed for cosmetic surgery that is not medically necessary or is unrelated to an illness or injury.

What if an employee doesn’t use sick days?

Make it clear in your policy that unused sick leave days cannot be carried over to the next calendar year.

What are the notice requirements for taking sick days in Ontario?

Employees must inform their employers that they are taking a sick day or days, usually before starting the leave. If for some reason, the employee is unable to notify the employer in advance, they must do so at the earliest possible.

What should be the protocol to apply for sick leave?

It is important to be clear about your expectations on how an employee should report an absence, if and when you’ll require a doctor’s note as proof of illness, who will take over responsibilities of the unwell employee and what happens when absence patterns arise.

What are my employee’s rights when taking sick days in Ontario?

Sick leave in Ontario is unpaid job-protected leave. While you are free to offer more sick days or even paid sick leave to your employees, you cannot take away the minimum entitlements provided in the Ontario ESA. It is also illegal to punish or discriminate against your employees for exercising their right to take sick days when they need to.

Employers should note that sick leave in Ontario is also not pro-rated. This means if an employee begins employment halfway through a calendar year, they are still entitled to three days of sick leave for that year. Unused sick leave days are not carried over to the next year.

What about providing proof of entitlement?

In certain circumstances, employers may ask for evidence that the sick leave taken was due to an illness, injury or medical emergency. Reasonable circumstances to ask for proof of entitlement would include the length of the leave requested or if there has been a pattern of absences, etc. Employers should be reasonable and flexible when asking for proof of entitlement from their staff.

In some cases, proof of sick leave can include a medical note. Employers should keep in mind that they cannot ask for medical information such as the diagnosis of the staff member’s health issue or the treatment they are receiving.

Employers can only seek the following details when requesting a doctor’s note:

  • The length of the leave
  • The date the employee saw a healthcare professional
  • Whether or not the employee was examined in person by the healthcare professional issuing the medical note
Should I offer paid sick leave?

At times, sick employees may push themselves to come to work because they do not want to lose wages. Not only is this bad for their health and productivity, but it also puts other employees and customers at risk of infection. If you can, offering paid sick leave to your employees is a benefit that will contribute towards a healthier and safe workplace. It is also a perk that’ll help you attract and retain talent.

How does Ontario sick leave interact with other types of leave?

Employees are entitled to different kinds of leaves of absence under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. These include sick leave, bereavement leave, family responsibility leave, domestic or sexual violence leave, critical illness leave, to name a few. Refer to our blog on Ontario’s Employment Standards Act for more details about these leaves.

Each of these leaves is separate and may be taken separately even for the same event.

Please note that sick leave in Ontario is different from Infectious Disease Emergency Leave, which can be paid or unpaid and can only be taken for reasons related to COVID-19.

What about the Ontario paid sick leave?

Employees in Ontario can avail of up to three days of paid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL). It was set to expire in July 2022, but has now been extended until March 31, 2023.

The COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act 2021 was passed in the Ontario legislature on April 29, 2021. The legislation requires employers to provide employees with up to $200 of pay for up to three days if they miss work because of COVID-19-related reasons. These include:

  • Going for a COVID‑19 test.
  • Staying home awaiting the results of a COVID‑19 test.
  • Being sick with COVID.
  • Getting individual medical treatment for mental health reasons related to COVID.
  • Going to get vaccinated or experiencing a side effect from a COVID‑19 vaccination.
  • Self-isolating due to COVID‑19 on advice from an employer, medical practitioner, or other specified authority.
  • Providing care or support to certain relatives for COVID‑19 related reasons.

Eligible employers may be compensated for the amount they paid to their employees for IDEL pay. Applications for reimbursement must be made within 120 days of the date the employer paid the employee.

What reasons may the Ontario paid sick leave be availed for?

The reasons your employee can use the paid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave include:

  • Sickness due to COVID-19.
  • Going for a COVID-19 test or awaiting the results of one while at home.
  • Time taken off to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot or to recuperate from a side effect experienced due to vaccination.
  • Getting individual medical treatment for mental health reasons related to COVID‑
  • If an employee has been advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19.
  • Or if one is taking care of a dependent who is sick/having symptoms or self-isolating due to COVID-19.
Who would be eligible for the Ontario paid sick leave?

Employees covered by the Employment Standards Act and those who do not already receive paid sick leave through their employer would be able to use the three-day leave.

Independent contractors or federally regulated employees would not be eligible.

Is a doctor’s note required?

No. Employees will not have to provide a doctor’s note as evidence.

How will the employers be reimbursed?

Eligible employers will apply for a reimbursement of up to $200 per employee day taken from the Ontario government. If an employee’s regular rate of pay is less than $200 a day, the employer will only be reimbursed for the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Eligible employers would have to apply for reimbursement within 120 days of the paid leave. Ontario will partner with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to deliver the program and reimburse employers.

What about the unpaid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave?

All employees covered by the Employment Standards Act are eligible for unpaid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave for reasons related to COVID-19. This leave is retroactive to January 25, 2020, and has no end date. An employee can avail of this leave if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Do you need help creating a workplace sick leave policy?

Get expert advice on sick leave management with Peninsula. Our HR experts can assist you with company policies, and with any other HR, health & safety or employment matters that arise. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 312-6706.