Critics slam Ontario’s proposed COVID-19 paid sick leave program as inadequate

Province's program would reimburse employers for up to three paid days per employee

Ontario labour minister Monte McNaughton announces Ontario's proposed COVID-19 paid sick leave program at Queen's Park on April 28, 2021. (YouTube screenshot)
Ontario labour minister Monte McNaughton announces Ontario's proposed COVID-19 paid sick leave program at Queen's Park on April 28, 2021. (YouTube screenshot)

The Ontario government will be implementing a COVID-19 paid sick leave program, but critics have slammed the program — which Premier Doug Ford promised last week would be “the best program anywhere in North America” — as inadequate.

Yesterday (April 28), labour minister Monte McNaughton announced the province will be introducing legislation today that, if passed, would require Ontario employers to provide up to three paid days if they have to miss work because of COVID-19 — including being sick, getting tested, self-isolating, taking care of a dependent who is sick, or going to get a vaccine.

“This is a game changer and this will save lives,” McNaughton said.

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Delivered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the proposed Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit would reimburse employers up to $200 per day for each employee. Employees would not need to take the three paid sick days consecutively.

The province has also offered to provide funding to the federal government to double payments for Ontario residents — from $500 to $1,000 — under the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) program. So far, the federal government has rejected this offer.

To qualify for the CRSB, a worker must be unable to work for at least 50 per cent of the time they would have otherwise worked for the week. While the province claims that doubling the federal CRSB, in combination with Ontario’s proposed program, would “provide Ontario workers with access to the most generous pandemic paid leave in the country”, employees would be ineligible for CRSB if they take a paid sick leave day under Ontario’s program.

In addition, self-employed people — who are eligible for the CRSB — would be ineligible for the provincial program, which would only be available to employees covered by the provincial Employment Standards Act who do not already receive paid sick time through their employer.

The province’s program would be retroactive to April 29, 2021 and expire on September 25, 2021 — the same date the federal CRSB will expire.

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For months, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has resisted calls for a provincial paid sick leave program, asserting the federal CRSB was sufficient. Last Thursday (April 22), Ford promised during a media conference “we will have the best program anywhere in North America, bar none.”

Several labour rights organizations and medical experts have criticized the Ontario program as inadequate, as has NDP and official opposition leader Andrea Horwath.

“The government’s announcement is short-shrifting the workers of Ontario,” said Horwath, speaking to reporters after the announcement. “I don’t understand why they continue to deny workers what they need to stay safe, to protect themselves, their co-workers, their communities from COVID-19.”

Horwath, who says three days of paid sick leave are inadequate for people recovering from COVID-19 or even getting a test and waiting for the results, is calling for 14 days of paid sick leave.

“I don’t know where the premier thinks this is the best program in North America,” Horwath said. “It certainly is not.”

More information about the proposed program is available at