COVID-19: Vacation, Travel and Infectious Disease Leave Challenges for Essential Services Employers

Many employers of direct support professionals have struggled to balance serious labour shortages with infectious disease leaves – particularly in relation to post-travel quarantine.

For instance, if an employer approves a 1 week vacation period and the employee travels out-of-country, the employee is subject to, and lawfully entitled to, a 14-day self-isolation period. During that leave, employees may, depending on the terms of their employment contract, employer policies or collective agreement be entitled to use their sick time, vacation pay or lieu pay to maintain their earnings. Even if they don’t have the right to paid time from their employer, they have throughout the pandemic been entitled to CERB or CRB (Federal employment insurance benefits) during that time.

The unintended result is unexpected extended time off during periods when many employers are already struggling to cover shifts in essential services settings.

The government has already discussed its intention to deny CRB benefits for employees required to self-isolate post-travel, but, as some employers have seen that may not be enough to discourage employees intent on taking advantage of cheap travel deals.

With the imposition of restrictions on travel to sun destinations announced last week and a new plan to require traveler-paid post-travel quarantine in designated hotels (at a cost of up to $2000), we may see the end to this troubling trend, for now.  At the same time, employers should be taking steps to manage employee requests.  In certain sectors (particularly Developmental Services, Intervenor Services, Retirement and Long-term Care settings) emergency orders apply that give enhanced rights (and indeed obligations) to employers to take steps to ensure adequate staffing – including managing vacation and leaves of absence.  It will be important to do so, not only now but when current travel restrictions are lifted by the Federal government.