COVID-19 and Limitation Periods in the Employment Context
On March 20, 2020, pursuant to the Ontario Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the provincial government suspended statutory limitation periods and procedural guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More specifically, according to the Order, any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or order establishing “any limitation period” or “any period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceeding” is temporarily suspended.
The suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. The Order lasts up to 90 days but may be extended.
What Does this Mean for Employment Law?
Ordinarily, pursuant to the Ontario Limitations Act, 2002, you have two years from the date your claim is discovered to commence a lawsuit.
In the employment context, examples of claims include failing to provide reasonable notice upon termination, being subjected to workplace violence and/or discrimination, and experiencing retaliation by your employer.
As a result of the Order, however, the Limitations Act limitation periods have been suspended.
Consider the following example:
Joe is fired on November 18, 2018. The limitation period for his wrongful dismissal claim would expire on November 18, 2020. If the Order expired on June 14, 2020, Joe’s limitation period would expire on February 16, 2021 (because the 90 days between March 16, and June 14, 2020, are excluded when calculating the limitation period).
The Order also suspends time limits under the Rules of Civil Procedure and time limits for administrative tribunals. This includes the deliverance and service of pleadings in civil litigation, and the filing of documents with the Human Rights Tribunal.
It is expected that the Order will be extended while Ontario remains in a state of emergency.
Claims and other documents may still be filed electronically in Ontario, and individuals should consider taking advantage of that option if possible.