It depends… Where remote work is not possible, employers should obtain specific advice about whether the leave period should be paid or unpaid to mitigate possible liability.
Yes, employers can require employees to use vacation time and pay and that is because employers are entitled in employment/labour standards legislation to schedule vacations and can require employees to take their vacation when the need arises, especially if you have employees with a lot of unused vacation days, you can require that they take that time off now. However, make sure you communicate the directive properly and the need for such an action under the circumstances. Also, ensure that the decision to schedule vacation time for your employees does not conflict with any requirements under an employee’s employment contract, employment/labour standards legislation (i.e., notice requirements and taken in one-week period) or an applicable collective agreement.
If you offer paid sick time or paid personal days you can also require employees to use these types of leaves. However, in a unionized environment, the collective agreement sets out how these personal days are used. It is up to the employee as to when they use them. So again, use caution and involve employees in these decisions, in any environment (union or non-union) these days are benefits to employee and may be needed later in the year, and employees may not want to use all their paid sick time and personal days now.
Regarding overtime banks. Several employment/labour standards legislation allow an employee to be compensated for overtime hours by receiving one and one-half hours of regular paid time off or straight time (depending on the jurisdiction) for each hour of overtime worked in lieu of overtime pay. In other words, if the employer and the employee enter into an overtime banking agreement, the employer may establish a time bank for overtime worked. Once the time bank is established, the employer must credit the employee’s overtime wages to the time bank instead of paying them to the employee within the regular time frame for paying wages. With the employee’s agreement, any overtime wages that accrue in the time bank must be taken within a certain time period; in Ontario for example, 12 months of the workweek in which the overtime was earned). If there is no agreement, the employee must take paid time off within three months of the workweek in which the overtime was earned.
You could discuss and come to a written agreement with employees to use their overtime bank during the COVID-19 shutdown.