After almost six months of school closures across Ontario due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school is now back in session for most students. The provincial government’s education model includes a voluntary back-to-school regime that provides parents and students with the option to engage in online learning from home or to have children physically attend at school. With recent cases of COVID-19 on the rise this fall, outlined below is a summary of what employers should be aware of regarding their obligations to accommodate employees with children that are not attending in-person school or childcare.
Grounds for Taking the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave
The Government of Ontario confirmed at the start of September that despite several businesses being fully reopened and operating through an in-person model, employees are still eligible for leave protection under the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (“IDEL”) regulation. This unpaid leave allows employees to care for their children in the event of a school or daycare closure, if the school protocol mandates the child’s absence, or if the child is sick and must stay home as a precautionary measure. However, the Government has gone one step further and stated that this leave is also available to parents who choose not to send their children back to school out of fear of contracting the virus. This announcement clarified that fear alone is sufficient to keep an employee’s children home from school and be eligible for IDEL.