In November 2017, Ontario passed the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. The act increases Ontario’s minimum wage, but it also changes the province’s personal emergency leave rules. Now, businesses in the province have to give their employees 10 unpaid personal emergency leave days and two paid personal emergency leave days each year. It’s essential to understand how to implement these standards into your accounting firm and how to help your clients prepare for the changes.
Which Businesses Are Affected?
In the past, many of the province’s rules for personal leave only affected businesses with more than 50 employees. Under the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, that threshold is no more. With two clients or 200, all businesses must follow these new rules.
Personal Emergency Leave
Personal emergency leave refers to any situation when an employee needs to miss work to take care of a personal illness or injury, but it also includes cases where an employee needs to miss work due to the death, illness, or injury of a relative. Eligible relatives include the employee’s spouse or partner, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren as well as step and foster parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. An employee can take leave due to the death, injury, or illness of a child’s spouse, brother or sister, or any other relative who’s dependant on the child for care or assistance.
On top of that, employees can also take personal emergency leave for urgent matters. For example, if an employee’s babysitter calls in sick, he can take personal emergency leave to take care of his children. If his parents need help because their home was broken into or if his children’s school demands a meeting about behavioural issues, these fall under the umbrella of personal emergency leave.
Length of Leave
Under the new laws, both full-time and part-time employees get 10 full days of personal emergency leave. Employers only have to pay employees for the first two days of leave, but they have to give them the remaining leave on request. If you’re an employer, you must keep the worker’s job available for them. The leave accrues every calendar year, and if you hire a new employee in the middle of the year, you must grant all 10 days for that year.
Eligibility for Personal Leave Benefits
When you hire new employees for your firm in Ontario, they’re eligible to receive these benefits almost immediately. During the first week of employment, they can take unpaid personal emergency leave without losing their jobs, and after a week of employment, they’re able to receive their paid personal emergency leave.
Prior Leave Notice
Ideally, your employees should notify you before they take leave, but under the law, they don’t have to make this notification. If they cannot notify you right away, they just need to contact you as soon as possible. You can request some information to verify the leave is for a justified cause, but it’s important to be very careful about the information you request. Under the new law, you cannot request a note from a qualified health practitioner such as a physician, nurse, or psychologist, but you can request a note from other types of health care providers, such as dentists or homeopathic practitioners. If one of your firm’s employees takes leave to help an ill or injured family member, you can ask for that person’s name and relationship to the employee, but again, you cannot legally request a note from a qualified medical practitioner.
When your employees take a paid day off for personal emergency leave, calculate their pay based on their classification. If your employees earn an hourly rate and they miss a full or partial day of work, simply multiply the number of hours missed by their hourly rate. For instance, if your employee earns $20 per hour, you have to pay $160 for missing a full eight-hour day of work but only $60 if he misses three hours of work. On the other hand, if your employee receives a salary and earns $1,000 per week for a five-day week, his daily rate is $200, and you should pay that amount if he takes a paid day of personal emergency leave.
Other Types of Leave
As an employer, it’s important to note this is only one type of leave. Personal emergency leave is not the same as pregnancy leave, parental leave, family caregiver leave, family medical leave, critical illness leave, organ donor leave, child death leave, crime-related child disappearance leave, or reservist leave. The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act also expanded leave for employees dealing with domestic or sexual violence. You must give these employees up to 17 weeks off if needed. That leave is unpaid, but you must keep the job available to the employee.
Updating Bookkeeping Practices
If you do your payroll by hand or in a spreadsheet, it’s essential to work out these changes carefully. Consider using different codes for each type of leave so you can keep track of how much leave employees have left in each category. If you use payroll software, make sure your software allows you to enter different types of paid and unpaid leave.
Implementing the Law
Ideally, you want these changes to have as little impact on your business operations as possible. Practically speaking, you should be prepared to let every employee take an emergency personal day about once a month. You may want to work with a temp agency that can supply you with administrative assistants or accounting professionals when your employees have to take emergency leave. Ensure your management and human resources team understand the new personal emergency leave rules to prevent any confusion.
Ultimately, the new rules help to make workplaces fairer for employees. As an employer, it’s necessary to understand the rules and be ready to implement them.
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