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Amendments to the Employment Standards Act will significantly increase legally mandated employee leaves

Sometimes, life just happens and you need to take a day off work. Not a sick day or a vacation day, but a Grandma-fell-down-and-is-in-the-hospital day, or a the-babysitter-called-in-sick-at-the-last-moment day

It’s called personal emergency leave (PEL), and Ontario law already requires larger workplaces, with 50 or more employees, to provide up to 10 days of it for every employee in every calendar year. Now the provincial government has released plans to broaden the rules, and there are at least three provisions that employers should be aware of.

  • All employers, now including those with fewer than 50 employees, will be required to provide up to 10 days of PEL per calendar year.
  • All employers will be required to provide full pay for at least two of the 10 PEL days.
  • Employers will not be allowed to ask for a doctor’s note or other proof that the PEL was taken for an emergency situation covered by the rules.

According to information on the Ministry of Labour website, PEL is intended to cover the following types of emergency situations:

  • A personal medical emergency (including necessary elective surgeries).
  • A medical emergency affecting certain close relatives or dependent persons.
  • An “urgent matter” affecting the employee or close relative.

The Ministry does not strictly specify which types of “urgent matters” qualify for PEL under the legislation, but it does provide a list of examples that it says do fall within the intended scope of the rules. These include – but are not limited to – things like a babysitter who can’t come that day, a family emergency the employee needs to deal with, or an appointment to deal with an issue at a child’s school.

There are also provisions for how PEL will interact with other types of leave required under existing legislation — family caregiver leave, family medical leave, critically ill child care leave, and crime-related child death or disappearance leave. Depending on the circumstances, it may not always be easy to figure out what type of leave applies. The Ministry does note that more than one type of leave may apply in some cases.

Union contracts or existing human resources policies supersede the legal requirement if they are more generous.

The increased requirements for PEL are part of planned amendments to the Employment Standards Act that include changes in other areas. These include three weeks’ vacation after five years, new penalties for wrongly classifying employees as independent contractors, increased employee rights around work scheduling, equal pay provisions for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal workers, and increases to the minimum wage.

Of course, many employers have long given leave when their employees faced personal emergencies, but often required the use of sick days or vacation days. Since it was discretionary – up to the boss to decide when you called in – there could sometimes be confusion about what rules applied, and a possible lack of across-the-board equal treatment for all situations.

The government plans to have to changes to PEL come into effect on January 1, 2018.

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