This week, the provincial government announced that Ontario will return to a modified version of Stage 2 restrictions, which includes closing indoor dining, reducing gathering limits, and moving schools to online learning until January 17th.
If you are feeling confused or overwhelmed by the thought of having to navigate potential quarantine or self-isolation periods during these newly announced restrictions, you are not alone.
Below is a list of options to consider for income replacement during a quarantine or self-isolation period if you don’t have contractual paid sick days.
1. Short-term disability
Firstly, look to your group benefits program if you have one. You may qualify for short-term disability coverage, which can provide a large part (and sometimes all) of your salary for up to 6 months.
Short-term disability provides higher income replacement than other options and is potentially accessible multiple times in a year, depending on the specific policy. Some insurers have said they will cover employee income when they need to take time off to isolate.
While this option can provide higher income replacement, employees will need disabling symptoms to qualify. Obtaining short-term disability benefits also requires employees to go through their insurance company as opposed to dealing with their employer directly.
2. If Short-term disability isn’t an option, look to the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB):
Ontario’s Worker Income Protection Benefit (which was recently extended through to July 31st, 2022) requires employers to give their employees up to 3 paid days off (for up to $200/day) for a range of reasons related to the pandemic, including to:
- get a COVID-19 test
- await results of a COVID-19 test while staying home
- recover from COVID-19
- get vaccinated against COVID-19
- recover from a COVID-19 vaccination side effect
- self-isolate due to COVID-19 (under direction from an employer, medical practitioner, or other authority)
- care for a dependent who is sick with COVID-19 or self-isolating due to COVID-19
Employees do not have to take the 3 days off consecutively, and do not need to provide a doctor’s note. The leave must, however, be taken in entire days – not part days.
The government reimburses employers who do not usually give their workers sick pay, with up to $200 per employee per day. This reimbursement is paid via the WSIB system.
The WIPB program can potentially provide more income for one work week than Employment Insurance or the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit/Canada Recovery Caregiver Benefit and is payable directly from the employer as opposed to a third party.
However, employees must be aware that 3 days does not cover the full length of Ontario’s recommended isolation period. As a result, the WIPB may need to be supplemented with another benefit, such as EI or the CRSB/CRCB.
EI sickness benefits can provide employees with up to 15 weeks of financial assistance if they cannot work for medical reasons, conditional on a medical certificate. Quarantine due to COVID-19 is an accepted reason for inability to work, under the EI program. The EI application process is relatively straightforward compared to other benefit routes, and its denial rates are fairly low.
However, EI coverage requires enough insurable hours worked in the past year to qualify (though the government has lowered this threshold to 420 hours). Insurable hours means the number of hours which you have worked in your claim period (which is usually the last 52 weeks before your claim). the maximum benefit amount from the coverage is approximately half of your salary, up to $638/week.
The CRSB and CRCB programs provide more expanded eligibility than EI, and its denial rates fairly low. CRSB gives income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19, or have an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk of getting COVID-19. CRCB provides support to such individuals who are unable to work because they must care for their child under 12 years old or a family member who needs supervised care, including because of school or daycare closures. The CRSB is available for up to 6 weeks, and the CRCB is available for up to 44 weeks.
However, both CRSB and CRCB candidates must reapply for the benefit every week, and the benefit amount’s maximum is $450 per week after taxes.
Know your rights
In Ontario, you are still entitled to unpaid but job-protected Infectious Disease Emergency Leave if you have to self-isolate due to COVID-19. If you are fired for having to self-isolate, you may be able to submit a complaint to the Ministry of Labour.
If you can be accommodated via working from home, part-time hours, or some other method during self-isolation, your employer may likely have a duty under human rights legislation to accommodate you to the point of undue hardship.
If you can’t get a PCR test, try to document your situation any way you can. Take a timestamped video of you doing a rapid antigen test. Contact Telehealth and report your symptoms/ask for a doctor’s note. You can use an application such as Pocket Health to collect your medical documents.
It’s important to remember that coverage conditions for most income replacement benefits talk about sickness and disability, which are proven through more than just PCR test results. Remember to collect your evidence, date and timestamp it, and always keep copies of your records.
We can help
If you have questions about employee rights, employer responsibilities, or navigating income support benefits, contact our team or give our free helpline a call.