Ontario will be extending its paid sick leave program until at least July 2022, with the province's labour minister reaffirming his commitment to keep the legislation active until after the pandemic is over.
The program, which offers up to three paid sick days per employee, was set to expire at the end of December after a previous extension.
In a news release issued Tuesday afternoon, the Doug Ford government confirmed the program will be extended until July 31, 2022. Officials said the sick days will help workers take time off to get their COVID-19 booster shots or to take time to get children vaccinated.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto earlier in the day, Ontario Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton said that he remains committed to offering three paid sick days throughout the pandemic.
"I'll keep my word and we'll make sure that those paid sick days are there as long as COVID is here," he said. "This is front and centre for me. It's a priority. I will make sure that workers have paid sick days throughout this entire pandemic. I'll keep my word on that and we'll have more to say soon."
The legislation requires that employers provide employees with up to $200 of pay for up to three days missed due to COVID-19. Businesses are then reimbursed through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
McNaughton says that more than 200,000 workers have used the program so far. Employees can use the three sick days to get their COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 test, self-isolate or care for a family member. McNaughton also said that people can use them as mental health days.
However, it is unclear if the program will remain in place after the pandemic is declared an endemic. When asked if the Ford government will make the sick leave program permanent, McNaughton did not provide a clear answer, saying only that his commitment was related to the pandemic.
"Again, my commitment to workers is that those paid sick days will be there during this pandemic," he said while hinting that there will be "more to come on the paid sick days" as well as other workplace protections.
The Ford government axed a Liberal provincial paid sick leave program in 2018 shortly after they were elected. At the time, the premier said it was up to the employer to give workers more time off if they require it.
With files from CTV News Toronto's Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello