COVID-19 Policy Updates

This page will be updated regularly with new analysis and policy updates.

For COVID-19 related resources, please visit our Resource page here.

For ONN’s analysis of the federal government’s response to COVID-19, please visit this page.

Ontario State of Emergency – What kinds of organizations can remain open?

Effective starting 11:59 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020 for 2 weeks.

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Ontario government has announced that all but “essential” workplaces must close for two weeks starting March 24. The time frame may be extended. 

Organizations that can operate with remote workers may continue to do so. 

We have highlighted the types of nonprofit organizations that can remain open, as well as services nonprofits may use in their operations: 

  • Professional and social services that support the justice and legal system
  • Animal shelters and animal welfare agencies
  • Nonprofits that provide critical personal support services in home and also provide residential services for individuals with physical disabilities
  • Child care services for essential workers, and home child care services of less than six children
  • Credit unions, banking, and services that provide cheque cashing, payroll services (including “the payroll division of any employer”), insurance, employee benefits, and pension plans
  • Food banks and other food supply and services (restaurant take-away or delivery only)
  • Health care, home care, long-term care, mental health & addictions services
  • Hotels and shared rental units
  • News media
  • Organizations “that support the provision of . . . community services”
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers and laundry services
  • Property management, IT services, moving services
  • Services that can operate by phone, internet, or mail delivery
  • Temp agencies
  • Transit, taxis, and bike/car repair shops
  • Women’s shelters, homeless shelters, community housing, supportive housing, developmental services, children’s aid societies, group homes

See the full list.

COVID-19 Ontario government relief fund for social services

On March 23, the Ontario government announced that it is providing $200 million in social services relief funding in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The province will be providing municipalities and organizations that administer social services with funding to support them in their response to COVID-19. The funding will help municipalities and social service providers such as shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and nonprofits continue to deliver their critical services, hire additional staff, and find ways to promote social distancing and self-isolation to keep clients safe and healthy. Ontario’s municipal service managers will determine local needs and distribute the funding, ensuring clients are receiving the support they need.

Funding will also be made available to organizations delivering social services to First Nations individuals and families. 

Included in the $200 milion is an expanded Emergency Assistance program administered through Ontario Works, to help individuals who do not qualify for emergency financial supports under federal programs. There will also be discretionary benefits available to those who already receive social assistance.

ONN will analyze the allocation of this funding and how it will be administered. We will continue to monitor this and other supports recently announced. 

We encourage organizations to contact their municipality directly. See the link below.

On March 13, ONN sent a letter to the Premier of Ontario with four recommendations to support nonprofits and the communities they serve, including a stabilization fund for nonprofits; revisiting employment standards policies for paid sick days and emergency leave; clear communication about flexibility measures to assist nonprofits receiving funding directly from the provincial government; and expressly include nonprofit voices at leadership tables for emergency preparedness planning.

Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020

On March 19, the Ontario government passed the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 (Bill 186). The Act amends the provisions around leaves of absence, by repealing provisions of Declared Emergency Leave of the ESA and introduces a new leave: Declared Emergencies and Infectious Disease Emergencies. With these changes, employees who are in quarantine or in isolation due to COVID-19, or those who need to be away to provide care for children due to school or daycare closures or employees providing care, are now provided with unpaid job-protected emergency leave of absence. These measures are retroactive to January 25, 2020. 


The retroactive measures taken by the Ontario government below are a step in the right direction. It means that a broader swath of workers will be able to take unpaid leave and not risk losing their jobs. However, Bill 186 does not adequately support Ontario’s nonprofit workforce during this time of crisis. It does not protect or supplement wages for workers nor does it include any provisions to provide paid sick and emergency leave. Such measures would support Ontario’s nonprofit employers and workers as well as the communities they serve. More substantial provisions would allow the nonprofit sector to provide decent work to its employees at a time when they are needed most. These are critical investments that are needed at crucial moments in time to ensure that  communities can continue to be supported. 

Important things to know about Bill 186: 

Two new categories for unpaid leave of absence

Declared emergencies and infectious disease emergencies are the two categories wherein employees can take a leave of absence from work. The infectious disease emergencies leave is in addition to the emergency declared leave that was already in the Employment Standards Act (ESA). 

Where there has been an emergency declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA)and an employee is unable to work, they can take an unpaid leave of absence for the following reasons: 

  • They are subject to an order under the EMCPA
  • They are subject to an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA)
  • They are needed to provide care or assistance to a specified individual
  • They are subject to other reasons prescribed

For infectious disease emergencies, employees can take a leave of absence for the following reasons: 

  • The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19
  • The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act
  • The employee is in isolation or in quarantine in accordance with public health information or direction
  • The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace
  • The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure
  • The employee is prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions

No sick notes, but other “evidence” may be required 

Under declared or infectious disease emergencies, employers may ask for  ”evidence reasonable in the circumstances,” in order for employees to take unpaid leave of absence. This can look like a note from a day-care or an airline cancellation notice, but the employer cannot ask employees for a sick note as evidence.  

Restrictions apply 

It is important to note that the leave is unpaid and is only applicable “until the day the emergency is terminated or disallowed.” Also depending on the circumstances of employees, the leave may be applied differently e.g. an employee who self-isolates for 14 days may be treated differently from an employee who needs to provide care due to school closures.  The new law also gives the Cabinet the power to exempt certain classes of employees. 

Expansion of categories of family relationships receiving care

For employees providing care, support and assistance for others (e.g. family members), the new law expands the categories of family relationships to whom the provision applies:  

  • The employee’s spouse
  • A parent, step-parent, or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A child who is under legal guardianship of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A brother, step-brother, sister or step-sister of the employee
  • A grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A brother-in-law, step-brother-in-law, sister-in-law or step-sister-in-law of the employee
  • A son-in-law or daughter-in-law of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • An uncle or aunt of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • A nephew or niece of the employee or the employee’s spouse
  • The spouse of the employee’s grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece
  • A person who considers the employee to be like a family member, provided the prescribed conditions, if any, are met
  • Any individual prescribed as a family member

There’s a timeline: March 31 (for now)

It is important to note that Ontario’s state of emergency was declared on March 17 and is set to expire on March 31. The government can extend this an additional 14 days, but this would require recalling the legislature to do so.