TORONTO — The Ontario government says that it will extend its paid sick leave program by three months so that it runs until the end of the year as new data emerges about the quick spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
The program, which legislates up to three paid sick days per employee, was set to run until Sept. 25, but it will now go until Dec. 31.
The province introduced to the program in April following a flood of calls from health experts to provide help to workers so that they would not have to choose between staying home if they are sick and being able to pay their bills.
The program requires employers to provide employees with up to $200 of pay for up to three days if they have to miss work because of COVID-19. The government then reimburses employers through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
In a statement Tuesday, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton said the province is extending the program due to “new data” about the quick spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, first identified in India.
“Our government’s COVID-19 paid sick leave program was scheduled to end on September 25, 2021. However, 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,” McNaughton said.
The Doug Ford government faced strong criticism from opposition parties and health experts for failing to mandate paid sick leave sooner in the pandemic as frontline workers were in harm’s way. Ontario’s COVID-19 science table has also criticized the program, saying it does not go far enough and that something closer to 10 days would be more appropriate given the length of time that a positive diagnosis keeps someone home.
While 75 per cent of eligible Ontario residents are now fully vaccinated, infection rates have continued to tick upward over the past few weeks and the rolling seven-day average of new cases now stands at 702 as kids get ready to head back to in-person learning.
“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 said.
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