This morning at 8:30 a.m. Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario, declared a state of emergency pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which will remain in place until March 31, 2020. Cabinet has the power to extend the state of emergency.
The Premier’s first orders under these emergency powers included the following:
- public events of over 50 people are prohibited effective immediately;
- certain businesses are ordered closed effective immediately, including
- public recreation facilities,
- public libraries,
- private schools,
- bars and restaurants (except for take-out and delivery),
- all theatres, and
- most importantly for employers, all child care facilities.
The immediate closure of child care facilities will have a significant impact on all employers. Many employees now face significant difficulty finding child care, which undoubtedly will interfere with their ability to come to work, or to work effectively at home.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, an employer is required to accommodate an employee with respect to their child care obligations. The state of emergency announced today will inevitably require employers to be flexible. If an employee cannot find alternative child care, employers are likely required to accommodate this through an unpaid leave of absence, or remote working arrangements. If an employee can work from home, an employer will need to be flexible with the number of hours an employee can work each day. However, if an employee is accommodated in this fashion, they are entitled to be paid only for the hours that they actually work.
It is important to remind employers that on March 16, 2020 the Ontario Government announced it would pass legislation to provide job-protected leave to employees who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or daycare closures. The law would provide job protection retroactive to January 2020.
Our firm will continue to provide you with updates as the Ontario Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team of lawyers if you need help.