Government of Newfoundland and Labrador creates protected leave of absence amidst COVID-19
On March 26, 2020, the Newfoundland House of Assembly met with a minimum quorum of members to table and pass Bill 33 – COVID-19 Pandemic Response Act (“Act”).
This omnibus bill amended a number of pieces of legislation, including the Labour Standards Act. The amendments added Part VII.8 – Communicable Disease Emergency Leave (“Part”) to the Act, and set a retroactive commencement date for the amendments to the Act as March 14, 2020.
With respect to designated communicable diseases, of which COVID-19 is expected to be one, this Part creates an entitlement, upon presentation of reasonable evidence, to an unpaid leave of absence where employees are unable to perform their duties in situations where an employee is:
- under medical investigation, supervision, or treatment;
- acting in accordance with an order under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act;
- in isolation, quarantine, or under any control measure issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health;
- under an employer’s direction in response to a concern that the employee may expose others in the workplace;
- providing care or support to family, including such situations as school or child care service closure; or
- affected by travel restrictions and, under the circumstances, cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to the province.
However, the amendment provides for classes of employees to be exempted by regulation.
The amendments protect employees who take, apply for, or intend to take this leave of absence, but the period of absence will not count towards the application of rights, benefits, and privileges addressed in the Act, unless explicitly agreed upon by the employer and the employee. However, upon the conclusion of the leave of absence, all rights, benefits, and privileges addressed in the Act will resume and will be deemed to be continuous with the period of work before the leave taken.
These amendments suggest an intention to create protections for employees who have to take leave as a result of COVID-19, including those who contract the virus as well as those who have to care for family due to the resulting circumstances. However, employers and employees alike anxiously await regulations which are expected to determine that COVID-19 is a designated communicable disease under the Act, and provide any employee classes who are to be exempted from this leave.
This article is provided for general information only.
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