In light of the international concern about, and risks associated with, the COVID-19 virus, the Canadian government recently took action aimed at stopping its spread and providing relief for those immediately affected. On March 16, 2020, the government announced that it is closing its borders and the introduction of job protection legislation.
Closures of Canada's Borders
On March 16, 2020, the federal government announced that, effective Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Canada's borders would be closing to all international travelers and to all persons who present symptoms of COVID-19. All persons who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents will not be allowed entry into Canada, with the following exceptions:
- immediate family members of Canadian citizens;
- S. citizens;
- aircrews; and
The federal government also advised that the measures do not apply to commerce or trade, and that domestic flights and flights from the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean will not be affected, for the time being.
In addition, the federal government has instructed aircrews to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger based on guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Any person who presents with symptoms of COVID-19 will not be permitted to enter Canada. The Canadian government has stated that it will be providing support for people who cannot re-enter Canada; however, it has not specified what kind of support will be available.
At present, all individuals who are returning from international travel will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Job Protection Amendments for COVID-19
On March 16, 2020, the Ontario government announced that it will be introducing legislation to amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to provide unpaid job protection for employees who cannot work due to COVID-19.
The legislation, if passed, would protect the jobs of workers who:
- are under medical investigation, supervision, or treatment for COVID-19;
- are acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act;
- are in isolation or quarantine;
- are acting in accordance with public health information or directions;
- are directed not to work by their employer; or
- need to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19, such as a school or day-care closure.
In its announcement, the government said that the legislation would apply retroactively to January 25, 2020, when the first presumptive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the province of Ontario. These amendments are also explicitly not time-limited, and will be in place until the disease is considered to be under control.
Importantly, employers would not be able to ask employees for a medical note if employees choose to avail themselves of this leave. Employees will only be required to notify their employers as soon as possible of their intention to take the leave.
While employers are not required to pay employees while on coronavirus leave, the federal government provides employment insurance (EI) for up to 15 weeks for employees who are unable to work due to illness. The federal government has waived the one-week waiting period for employees who need to access EI due to coronavirus.
This is some of the most progressive coronavirus leave legislation implemented by a provincial government. Other jurisdictions are expected to announce similar legislation shortly, and may follow the example of Ontario.
As of March 17, 2020, Ontario has now declared a state of emergency, closing indoor recreational programs, licensed child care centers, theaters, schools, and all bars and restaurants (except for takeout and delivery). However, Ontario's premier has stressed that this is not a provincial "shutdown" and that most businesses will continue to operate.
Note that the legislation and medical advice around COVID-19 is rapidly changing and is being updated daily.
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