The Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) sets out minimum standards of employment for most employees in Ontario workplaces. It does not prohibit employers from requiring employees to stay at home due to potential public health risks, like COVID-19.

Generally, an employer is not required under the ESA to pay an employee wages if the employee has not worked. Some employees may have additional rights under:

  • an employment contract (including a collective agreement)
  • the common law
  • other legislation

Employees may be entitled to employment insurance benefits or other federal government financial supports.

Learn more about the federal government’s financial supports or contact Service Canada’s Employment Insurance automated telephone information service at 1-800-206-7218.

Note: the minimum standards under the ESA described here may have applied differently to certain employees when orders under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to ) Act, 2020 (ROA) or the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act were in effect.

To find the orders:

  • visit the ROA
  • select the “Revoked/spent regulations under this Act”

Leaves of absence

There are several job-protected leaves provided under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) that might apply to an employee. 

Infectious disease emergency leave 

The ESA provides unpaid job-protected leave for employees who are not performing the duties of their position because they are:

  • under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID‑19, which includes getting vaccinated against COVID‑19
  • acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act or under the ROA
  • in isolation or quarantine or acting in accordance with public health information or direction
  • directed by the employer not to work due to a concern that the employee could spread in the workplace
  • providing care or support to a specified individual for a reason related to such as:
    • a school or child care closure or where an employee does not send their child to school or to child care because of a concern that the child will come into contact with
    • providing care or support to their child who is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 or is experiencing side effects from the vaccine
  • prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions

This unpaid job-protected leave is retroactive to January 25, 2020.

Employees who take this leave are not required to show a medical note as proof of entitlement for the leave.

Learn more about infectious disease emergency leave.

The ESA was amended on April 29, 2021 to require employers to provide eligible employees with up to three days of paid infectious disease emergency leave for certain reasons related to COVID‑19. Paid infectious disease emergency leave was retroactive to April 19, 2021 and ended on March 31, 2023. Learn more about paid infectious disease emergency leave.

Other job-protected leaves   

There are other unpaid, job-protected leaves under the ESA that might apply to an employee who stops working due to . Each leave is different – the purpose of the leaves, the length and the eligibility criteria vary. 

Learn more about job-protected leaves.

Federal income support

The Government of Canada provides income supports for eligible employed and self-employed individuals.

Learn more about income supports for individuals.

Taking vacation time

Generally, the employer decides when an employee takes vacation. Vacations must usually be at least one week long. The vacation can be shorter if the employee asks to do so, in writing, and the employer agrees, in writing.

An employer could decide to schedule a vacation for one or more employees at any time, including during the time that the employer’s business was being negatively affected.

If you are already on a job-protected leave, your employer cannot convert the leave into a period of vacation time.

Temporary layoffs

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government made a regulation that changed certain ESA rules during the “COVID-19 period”. The COVID-19 period ended on July 30, 2022.

During the period (March 1, 2020 to July 30, 2022) a non-unionized employee was deemed (i.e. automatically considered) to be on unpaid infectious disease emergency leave when they were not performing the duties of their position because their employer temporarily reduced or temporarily eliminated their hours of work for reasons related to

Under the ESA, where an employee is laid off for a period longer than a temporary layoff, the employee is considered terminated by their employer and would generally be entitled to termination pay (and in certain cases severance pay). However, under this regulation, a non-unionized employee was not considered laid off under the ESA if their employer temporarily reduced or temporarily eliminated their hours of work for reasons related to . This meant the layoff clock stopped ticking towards a termination of employment.

Beginning on July 31, 2022 employees are no longer deemed to be on unpaid infectious disease emergency leave and the ESA’s regular rules around temporary layoff resumed. For practical purposes, an employee’s temporary layoff clock re-set on July 31, 2022.

Even though the period ended on July 30, 2022 and non-unionized employees are no longer deemed to be on unpaid infectious disease emergency leave  when their hours of work are temporarily reduced or temporarily eliminated by their employer for reasons related to , unionized and non-unionized employees may continue to be eligible to take unpaid infectious disease emergency leave after July 30, 2022 if they are not performing the duties of their position for certain reasons related to . Employees may also have been eligible to take paid infectious disease emergency leave, which was available until March 31, 2023.

The ESA provides minimum standards only. Some employees may have additional entitlements under an employment contract, collective agreement, the common law or other legislation that gives them greater rights.

Special rule about recall rights, termination pay and severance pay for unionized workplaces in certain industries

A regulation came into force on December 17, 2020 that established a special rule relating to the interaction between recall rights, termination pay and severance pay.

The special rule may have applied to unionized employees and their employers in the hospitality, tourism and convention and trade show industries. This rule ended on July 30, 2022.

Learn more about this special rule.

Other rights

Note that, among other rights under the ESA, an employee cannot be punished for asking about or exercising their ESA rights. An employee also cannot agree to give up any of their rights under the ESA.

For more information on rights under the ESA, please see Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act.

Human rights

If your situation raises issues under Ontario’s human rights legislation, you can call the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre at:

For more information about Ontario’s human rights system, contact the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Filing a claim

If an employee thinks that their employer has not followed the ESA, the employee can file a claim with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. Learn more about filing a claim.