Ford promises to protect workers required to take unpaid leave amid COVID-19 outbreak

The Doug Ford government is promising legislation "to protect workers who are required to take unpaid leave during self-isolation or quarantine periods," his office said on Sunday. 

The legislation would direct employers to "remove the requirement for employees to obtain sick notes prior to taking time off."

Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for the premier, said the sick note requirement would be removed in cases where employees take time off to go into isolation or quarantine or to provide care for people in such situations.

"Our government is protecting workers so they can focus on their own health, and the health of their families and communities, without fear of losing their jobs," Ford said in the statement.

Details of the government's plan to help Ontario residents amid the COVID-19 outbreak will announced in the coming days, Yelich added.

Yelich said the province hopes to work with the federal government on measures to provide more financial support for businesses and workers. 

The legislature is not scheduled to sit until March 23 because this week is March break, but the government could negotiate with the opposition parties to bring the legislature back for an emergency session.

Asked when the legislation could be passed, Yelich added: "We will work with the opposition parties to introduce and pass the legislation as expeditiously as possible."

Shortly after coming to office in 2018, Ford's government repealed labour legislation introduced by the previous government that gave workers two paid sick days a year and banned the practice of requiring sick notes.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the opposition is pleased that the provincial government is drafting what she called emergency legislation. She said the NDP has spoken to the government and will co-operate to pass the bill.

"The NDP will be working hard to ensure the emergency legislation helps people take time off work without losing a paycheque. We want to ensure no one faces consequences for missing a rent or mortgage payment through no fault of their own," Horwath said.

"We will work to ensure there is a plan to support vulnerable people and vital services like shelters, and ensure no one is left behind when it comes to having the groceries and medications they need — including seniors and those on (Ontario Works) and (Ontario Disability Support Program)."

Horwath said the province should also draft a plan to help "our already-crowded hospitals" and to assist health-care workers with child care because the workers will be needed at work in the coming weeks.   "It's critical that the plan is communicated effectively to the public," she said.

Ontario has over 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19

On Sunday, Ontario announced 43 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 146.

Five of those patients are no longer infectious, the province said on its website.

Among the new cases, 14 people with the virus are in Toronto, five are in Peel Region and three are in York Region. Another three are in Hamilton. All are self-isolating, except one person in the area of Simcoe-Muskoka and that person is hospitalized.