Can my employer lay me off temporarily because of COVID-19?

Yes, your employer can lay you off temporarily because of COVID-19. Many employers have shut down or reduced their business hours because of the pandemic. They have also had to lay off some or all of their employees.

A layoff is when an employer cuts most or all of a worker's hours because there's no work for them to do. Layoffs can be temporary or permanent. For more information about permanent layoffs caused by COVID-19, see Can my employer lay me off permanently because of COVID-19?.

Before COVID-19, the (ESA) said an employer could temporarily lay off employees for up to 13 weeks. In some cases they could do so for longer, for example, if they continued to pay benefits.

If an employer didn't bring you back to work by the end of those 13 weeks, you were considered to have been fired. This is called “constructive dismissal.” You had the option of either filing a claim through:

  • the Ministry of Labour for termination pay, or
  • the courts for .

Sometimes you could also claim through the Ministry of Labour, if you worked for a large company.

What’s changed with COVID-19

Because of COVID-19, the government of Ontario changed the rules for temporary layoffs. The new rules say that employers can temporarily cut an employee's hours and pay or give them no work, without it being counted as a temporary layoff. But this rule only applies:

  • from March 1, 2020 to January 1, 2022, and
  • if your employer made these changes because of COVID-19.

The rules say during this time you are not “laid off”, you're said to be on an unpaid emergency leave called “Infectious Disease Emergency Leave”.

During this emergency leave, your employer does not have to pay you or continue your benefits. You also cannot make a claim through the Ministry of Labour for or severance pay based on how long you have been on this leave.

You might be able to make a claim for through the courts because of how long you've been on the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave. But the law isn't clear about this. It's a good idea to get legal help.

After January 1, 2022

Starting January 2, 2022, the pre-COVID-19 rules about temporary layoffs apply again. They say that employers can only put employees on a temporary layoff of up to 13 weeks, or up to 34 weeks in some cases. If they don't bring employees back to work in that time, employees can once again file a claim through the Ministry of Labour for termination pay and maybe severance pay.

These rules will apply even if your employer says the layoff is because of COVID-19.

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