Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Apr 24, 2020

Government Passes Emergency Order for Mental Health Agencies

By Daniel Pugen

Following up on other recent Orders that were applicable to hospitals, long-term care facilities, retirement homes and developmental services agencies, the Government has now issued an Order applicable to employers who provide community mental health and addictions services (“Mental Health Agencies”). This Order was once again made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and gives Mental Health Agencies temporary flexibility to modify staffing and redeploy staff (without regard to collective agreement restrictions).

Mental Health Agencies have wide latitude to take “any reasonably necessary measure to respond to, prevent and alleviate the outbreak” of COVID-19 and “to respond to consequences arising from” COVID-19. Specifically, Mental Health Agencies can do the following:

  • Redeploy staff within different locations
  • Change the assignment of work, which can include assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work
  • Change scheduling or shift assignments
  • Defer or cancel vacations, absences or other leaves (regardless of whether such vacations, absences or leaves are established by statute, regulation, agreement or otherwise)
  • Employ extra staff (whether full time, part time, temporary, contractors, volunteers) to perform work, including bargaining unit work
  • Provide training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to “achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan”
  • Conduct “skills and experience inventories” to identify alternative roles for staff “in priority areas”
  • Collect information from staff about their availability to provide services including their health conditions or exposure to COVID-19

Agencies can implement these staffing measures despite any statute or collective agreement and, notably, despite any lay-off, seniority or bumping provisions in a collective agreement. 

Just like the other Orders, the purpose is to ensure that Mental Health Agencies have the flexibility to schedule or redeploy staff as necessary to assist in maintaining its essential services and in fighting the spread of COVID-19. As these agencies are supporting extremely vulnerable individuals, the Government has recognized that agencies, now more than ever, need to be nimble and responsive.

Notably, any grievance related to a matter covered under the Order is deemed suspended for the duration of the emergency.

As the COVID-19 outbreak intensifies in Ontario, it is possible that the Government may issue similar Orders for other essential workplaces. We will continue to update our clients with respect to new developments as they emerge.

In the meantime, please reach out to us if you have any questions.

If you have any questions about COVID-19 and your workplace, or any other human resource law issue, please contact a member of our team. For more information about dealing with COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.