Ontario’s Incentive Program for PSWs Poses Challenges for DS Employers

In the 2021 Provincial Budget, the Ford government announced the Recruitment and Retention Incentive Program (the “RRI”), a “short-term solution” to help attract more nurses and personal support workers (PSWs) to the retirement home sector to address immediate staffing needs.  While the government’s willingness to support the retirement home sector is laudable, the myopic manner in which it has chosen to do so has the potential to seriously exacerbate the recruitment and retention challenges that are plaguing other sectors to an equal degree.  Indeed, the criteria for eligibility is actually designed to entice workers away from other sectors of the economy and specifically those with PSW credentials.  Sadly, this makes many DS workers particularly eligible and susceptible to being enticed away from their employment in the DS sector.  We provide the full details below.

What is the RRI?

The RRI provides an incentive payment for new and recently hired PSWs and nurses who commit to a minimum time period of work in an eligible retirement home. PSWs will receive an incentive payment of $5,000 for a six‐month commitment to work in a retirement home. Nurses will receive $10,000 for a one‐year commitment to work in a retirement home.

What Retirement Homes Are Eligible?

To be eligible for the RRI, a retirement home must meet the following criteria:

  • The Retirement Home must be licensed under Ontario’s Retirement Homes Act, 2010 (RHA).
  • The position(s) applied for under RRI must meet the minimum workload and time commitment requirement starting on or after June 1, 2021. These commitments are 25 hours/week for PSWs for 6 months and 30 hours/week for nurses for one year. (Note: two retirement homes may submit a joint application if staff hours are shared across homes).
  • A retirement home must have identified a member of their organization who is willing to mentor any newly hired nurse(s) (only applicable for nursing positions).

When does this begin?

  • The first Call for Applications from retirement homes was launched today, August 12, 2021, and the deadline for applications is September 17, 2021.
  • The second Call for Applications will launch in December 2021.

Who is eligible?

The eligibility criteria are designed to entire workers away from other sectors of the economy towards the retirement home sector.   To be eligible to receive the RRI financial incentive, nurses and PSWs must:

What can the DS do?

At the macro level, advocacy with the provincial government to recognize the extreme staffing shortages in the DS sector that have been multiplied by the pandemic and which will be worsened by the RRI should be a priority – the expansion or extension of the RRI (or an equivalent program for the DS sector) is necessary.

At the micro-level, DS agencies need to review their policies (particularly as they relate to restrictions on secondary employment) and consider what their policies will be when it comes to workers who may consider seeking a leave of absence or going to relief or part-time status, or otherwise reducing their commitment to their DS employer in the interests of working for a retirement home.   Subject to the terms of any collective agreement, employers are not generally required to provide a leave of absence or permit an employee to reduce their schedule so that they can work elsewhere.  At the same time, given existing staffing shortages there’s a possibility that employers who refuse to be flexible with scheduling with a staff who wants to work in the retirement sector to benefit from the RRI may lose the staff entirely – potentially worsening their staffing challenges.

Some bad apples may also try to work the system and obtain a leave of absence on dishonest grounds in order to take part in the RRI.  For instance, an employee may try to claim unpaid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave on the basis of care obligations to a child or elder.  Where an employee is discovered to have used a leave of absence for false purposes this is often found to be grounds for immediately dismissal for cause.  In fact, many collective agreements include express recognition of that fact.  The challenge, however, may be in proving the duplicity.  As such, it will be important to ensure you require and establish a good documentary record for employees seeking leaves of absence and to clearly communicate the consequences of abusing any leave that may be granted.

PooranLaw will continue to monitor legal developments related to the RRI. In the meantime, if you require legal assistance in determining how these new rules apply to you or your organization, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.

Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.