Ontario extends COVID-19 paid sick leave program to end of year

Labour Minister and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn Media)

With Ontario entering a fourth wave of COVID-19, the provincial government has decided to extend its paid sick leave program until the end of 2021.

The program, which legislates employers to pay staffers who miss work because of COVID-19 for up to three days, was slated to end on September 25.

“In response to new data showing the Delta variant is spreading faster and is more transmissible, we are extending our COVID-19 paid sick leave program until December 31, 2021 to ensure that we continue to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible and protect workers sick from this virus,” Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton said in a statement.

Ontario introduced the paid sick days in April to help workers who have to stay home and self-isolate due to the virus. In addition to allowing employees the financial ability to stay home when ill, it was believed the program would help curb the spread of COVID-19. A doctor’s note is not required to access these days. Employers are reimbursed by the provincial government through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

“With the majority of people in Ontario now vaccinated, our province is in a better position than before, but we must continue to stay cautious and ensure we are taking all the steps necessary to protect the health and safety of everyone in Ontario,” McNaughton added.

While opposition parties are happy to see the paid sick leave program given a three month extension, they also argue it doesn’t go far enough.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca noted even an extension through to the end of the year isn’t likely to carry Ontarians through to the end of the latest wave.

“I cannot understand why [Premier Doug Ford] won’t expand the program so everyone can be protected through the fourth wave,” said Del Duca. “Ontario workers must have their income protected to keep them from going into work should they get sick during the fourth wave.”

Del Duca is once again calling for the program to be expanded to give workers ten provincially-funded paid sick days.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also stated the program falls short and does not “meet the needs” of working families as children head back to school during the fourth wave.