What’s happening? Amendments (“Amendments”) to the Employment Insurance Act (“EI Act”), to increase the length of EI sickness benefits, as well as to the Canada Labour Code (“CLC”), to increase the length of unpaid medical leave and include quarantine as a reason for taking this leave, have come into effect. As a reminder, the Amendments to the EI Act and CLC were included in Bill C-30, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 19, 2021 and other measures (“Bill C-30”), which received Royal Assent in June of 2021.

Effective Date. The Amendments to the EI Act and CLC came into effect on December 18, 2022.

What does it say? As of December 18, 2022, the maximum length for which EI sickness benefits can be paid to eligible insured and self-employed workers who are unable to work (due to illness, injury or quarantine) is extended from 15 weeks to 26 weeks. Employees who qualify for or establish a new claim from December 18, 2022 onwards are eligible for this 26-week benefit at 55% of their average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum entitlement of $638 for 2022.

To align with this change, the maximum length of unpaid medical leave, under the CLC, for employees working with federally regulated, private-sector employers, is likewise extended from 17 to 27 weeks (the extra week is to account for the EI waiting period of one week and to provide flexibility for employees), as of December 18, 2022. Quarantine is also included to the list of reasons, under the CLC, for which an employee is entitled to this 27-week unpaid medical leave. Previously, unpaid medical leave was only available for employees in the federal sector for personal illness or injury, organ or tissue donation, or medical appointments during working hours, and employees on quarantine were only entitled 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave.

There are no amendments to entitlements for other types of leaves of absence under the CLC, such as the new paid medical leave that came into effect on December 1, 2022.

What should we do? Given that these Amendments are already in force, federally-regulated employers should review, as soon as possible, workplace policies and employment contracts, and update any such documents that specify the length of EI sickness benefits or unpaid medical leave entitlements for employees, or the reasons for which employees can take the previously 17-week unpaid medical leave. Employers should also update or train human resources staff on validating and managing the unpaid job-protected sick leave and continue to ensure that any information being collected about employees’ medical or health situations is treated with privacy and confidentiality. The federal government has published guidance related to paid and unpaid medical leave.

Not in the Federal Jurisdiction: Why should we care? Employees working in either provincially or federally-regulated businesses may be eligible for the currently 26-week EI sickness benefits. However, only the CLC, which governs federally-regulated employers, has been recently amended to expressly align with the changes to the EI Act. In other words, even though an employee working for a provincially-regulated employer may be eligible for 26 weeks of EI sickness benefits, they may not be entitled to an equivalent amount of unpaid job-protected sick leave under the applicable minimum standards legislation. Nonetheless, employers may very well still have an obligation to provide eligible employees with longer job-protected sick leaves than that which is set out in the relevant legislation. Employers are encouraged to review the sick leave entitlements that apply to their workplaces to determine how they align with these extended EI sickness benefits.

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The information contained in this document is summary in nature and is intended to provide general guidance only. It should not be viewed as a replacement for legal or professional advice. While every effort is made to provide current information, the law changes regularly and laws may vary depending on the province or territory. You should review applicable law in your jurisdiction and consult experienced counsel for legal advice. This content is the property of ADP Canada Co.

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