Cineplex laid off 6,000 part-time employees temporarily in Ontario and Quebec last week. Approximately 5,000 of those jobs were in Ontario establishments. The company cited new enhanced COVID-19 restrictions as the cause for these layoffs. Both provincial governments have instituted major shutdowns of multiple sectors in the face of rising COVID-19 case counts. In Ontario, these restrictions include the complete closure of numerous indoor and outdoor attractions, including cinemas, theatres, and concert venues.
This is potentially one of the largest mass temporary layoffs to take place due to COVID-19, particularly of part-time workers, although Cineplex laid off thousands of employees in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. The company continues to rely on the extension of the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) until July 31, 2022.
Prior to the introduction of the IDEL, the Employment Standards Act had set limits regarding how long employers could lay off employees before constructive dismissal claims could be made. Many of these limits have now been removed in situations where employers have had to lay off employees due to COVID-19. Any employee laid off temporarily from March 1, 2020, to July 30, 2022, is deemed to be on an IDEL.
Currently, the enhanced eligibility criteria for Employment Insurance may help those on temporary layoffs, along with the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit and other support from the federal government. Although the IDEL protects employers from damages for wrongful dismissal under the Employment Standards Act, it does not necessarily protect them from such damages under the common law. There have been three notable Ontario Superior Court decisions on this issue. In two of the decisions, Coutinho v. Ocular Health Centre Ltd. and Fogelman v. IFG, the court found that putting an employee on an IDEL can constitute constructive dismissal under the common law, while the opposite was found in another decision, Taylor v. Hanley Hospitality Inc. This third decision was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, and it remains to be seen whether that court will make findings similar to those in Countinho and Fogelman. The COVID-19 temporary layoff issue will continue to be pertinent into 2022, certainly as long as the IDEL is in place.
If you were one of the 6,000 employees that Cineplex laid off recently, we at Whitten & Lublin are happy to provide insight and advice into your specific circumstances. If you are looking for employment lawyers and would like more information about what Whitten & Lublin can do for you, please contact us online or by phone at (416) 640-2667.