Ontario’s Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (“IDEL”) has—like the Pandemic—been around for a while now. After seeing the IDEL in action for a few months, the Ministry of Labour has expanded guidance on how and when the IDEL can be used, specifically with respect to caregiving responsibilities as they relate to schools and daycares.
What’s the IDEL?
Quick recap—the IDEL is an unpaid, job-protected leave. It was introduced by the Ontario government so that individuals who could not come to work for various COVID-19-related reasons would not be terminated for not coming to work. Remember, we don’t want people who could be spreading COVID-19 coming to work out of fear that they would lose their job.
The IDEL also covers employees who are laid off. These employees are deemed to be on the IDEL, as opposed to asserting their right to a leave because of a COVID-19-related need. Today we will be discussing those who have asserted their right to the IDEL.
Expansion of caregiving reasons an employee can take the IDEL
Earlier in the Pandemic, employees could take the IDEL if they had caregiving responsibilities caused by the closure of their child’s (stepchild, foster child, etc.) school or daycare. Now that the majority of schools and daycares are open, the Ministry has expanded the guidance on when an employee can take the IDEL related to caregiving responsibilities. An employee can take the IDEL to care for a child, even if the child’s school or daycare is open, if the employee:
- Does not send the child to school or daycare out of fear that the child will be exposed to COVID-19;
- Cannot send the child to school or daycare because the child has symptoms and the school or daycare requires that the child isolate and get tested before returning; or
- Does not send the child to school or daycare out of caution when the child has symptoms, even when the school or day would allow the child to attend.
Employers, this means that if your employees need time off for pretty much any reason related to their children and COVID-19, they will have job protection under the IDEL.
Requirements of the IDEL
The IDEL is more flexible than other leaves under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. Employees may take the leave in hours or partial days. This means employees could essentially work part time at their normal full-time job if they needed time every day because, for example, they had chosen to homeschool their kids out of fear of COVID-19. This is different from a parental leave when the employee is just off work for a period of time.
While employers do not have to pay employees for time that they do not work, benefits must be continued for employees who are on the IDEL.
Employers cannot require employees to provide proof of their entitlement to the IDEL in the form of a medical note, however, requesting other evidence is permissible.
Employers should know that when an employee is asking for flexibility or time off due to caregiving needs that in some way relate to COVID-19, they will likely be required to provide that time off under the IDEL.
While the IDEL applies to the school- and daycare-related reasons above, it is also available to employees who have COVID-19 caregiving responsibilities other than for their children, as well as to employees who may themselves be sick or in quarantine for some reason.