Essential and front-line workers across Ontario may soon have access to three paid sick days, after Wednesday afternoon’s announcement from the provincial government.

Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton says full-time and part-time workers will be eligible for the three sick days if the legislation passes, which don’t need to be taken consecutively, and employees would be able to receive up to $200 per day.

Ontario will introduce and vote on its new support program, the COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Program, on April 29.

If passed, the paid sick days would apply to those who are:

- Going for a COVID-19 test,
- Staying home awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test,
- Being sick with COVID-19,
- Going to get vaccinated,
- Experiencing a side effect from a COVID-19 vaccination,
- Having been advised to self-isolate by an employer, medical practitioner or other authority,
- Taking care of a dependent who is sick with or has COVID-19 symptoms, or is self-isolating.

Payments will be retroactive to April 19 and no sick notes will be required. However, it wouldn’t apply to those who already receive paid sick time through their employer.

Employers would be eligible to apply for a reimbursement of the $200 per day taken from Ontario. If the employee’s regular rate of pay is less than $200, you’d only be eligible for their regular rate of pay. The reimbursement would need to be made within 120 days of the paid sick leave.

McNaughton also announced Ontario will double payments residents receive through the federal government’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit program, which provides $500 before taxes for a 1-week period for a maximum of up to 20 days of paid sick leave.

“We’ve got your backs,” says McNaughton. “Workers in Ontario need more support now than ever before in our fight against this deadly pandemic. We’re stepping up to fill these gaps.”

CRSB Recipients are entitled to up to four weeks of paid leave between September 27, 2020, and September 25, 2021.

“Workers in Ontario need a fair deal, not a federal program that pays below minimum wage. With the new variants of concern, people need more support now than ever before,” said MPP Greg Rickford. “Our government is filling the gaps in the federal government’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) to ensure workers have access to the most generous pandemic paid leave in the country.”

Healthcare professionals and residents have been pushing the provincial government to introduce paid sick days throughout much of 2021, as the third wave of the pandemic continues.

On Monday, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table stressed essential workers need to continue to be paid if they are forced to stay home due to a COVID-19 exposure, or if they need time to receive their vaccination, as the current federal program wasn’t enough.

Last Thursday, Premier Doug Ford promised Ontario would see one of the ‘best’ sick leave programs in North America, after he began isolating at his mother’s home due to one of his staff members testing positive for COVID-19.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said three paid sick days isn’t enough in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“In the year it took the government to capitulate on paid sick days, 455,000 people were infected and nearly 8,000 died of COVID-19. This action is coming far too late. Too late to stop COVID-19 from getting out of control. Too late for workers who have already gotten sick,” said Horwath. 

“And it’s still too little. COVID-19 takes a couple weeks to get over. Even getting a test and waiting for results can take several days. Three sick days is not enough. 

“To all those people who have fought for over a year, thank you. We share your disappointment and we’re going to keep fighting with you.”

Horwath is fighting for an NDP bill that establishes permanent paid sick days plus 14 government-funded paid sick days during a pandemic or infectious disease emergency.