According to a new report by a group of healthcare providers that analyzed the effect of insufficient paid sick leave during the pandemic, all employers in Canada should be required to permanently provide at least seven fully paid days of emergency leave. Currently, doctors, teachers, and frontline workers are preparing for the possible second wave of COVID-19 during flu season.
Earlier this year, the governments across Canada introduced additional sick-leave provisions in response to the virus.
However, critics argued that since they were unpaid, the measures were mostly inadequate. A federal program did not address the need for a more permanent solution even though it was temporarily introduced for workers without paid sick leave. Other reports indicate that legislative inadequacies exposed gaps in the system and jeopardize public health. They indicated that on the first day of the disease, Canada was in the bottom quarter of countries without guaranteed paid sick leave for workers.
In Ontario, a municipal sanitation worker from the Niagara region, Kyle Hoskin, developed pneumonia in January. He was not given the time off to go and get a sick note from the doctor as required by his employer required. Hoskin said that if he had a paid sick day, he would have been able to afford to go to the doctor, get the medicine, see the doctor, and get treated. He added that during that time, he was extremely infectious with pneumonia, and he ended up giving pneumonia to 35 of his colleagues in the workplace.
The report said that the 2016 data shows that 58 percent of Canadians have not been having paid sick days, and more than 70 percent of workers have been making $25,000 or less. The low-wage means these same workers are often the ones who can least afford to take unpaid leave should they become sick. They are often essential workers whose jobs put them at a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19. The report said that workers had been forced to make an untenable choice between public health and their family’s financial security because the existing sick leave legislation does not support public health directives during the pandemic on staying home if COVID symptoms appear.
Monika Dutt, a family doctor, residing in Nova Scotia, stated that she works with patients, many of whom lack paid sick days and struggle with the choice between going to work sick and losing their income. Dutt also said that she is constantly telling the public to stay home if they feel unwell. She said she felt like she needed to qualify the statement because she knew how impossible it is for many workers actually to stay home when they’re sick. Most jurisdictions in Canada, except Quebec and PEI, do not currently have legislated minimum paid sick days.
Even as PEI provides one paid sick day a year that kicks in only after the employee has worked for the same company for five years, Quebec offers two paid sick days a year. Federally regulated sectors get three paid sick days annually while in Ontario, two paid sick days a year was legislated in 2018. According to the report, this threatens public health and the economy.
Austria, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland are among the countries ranked high in economic and human development. Workers in these countries were allowed at least a full week of paid sick leave while Canada was among only five countries that did not have similar paid provisions for short term sick leave. One human resource and finance administrator was quoted in the report saying that she had to do whatever it takes to try and save her sick days. She also said that she didn’t know what was going to happen with her two small children, citing an instance where her young daughter got hand, foot, and mouth disease and was out of daycare for five days. She added that her daughter’s immune system was weak, and she got sick very often. That made her feel very stressed because whenever she was sick, she had to stay home and do mental calculations to think about how many sick days she had left.
Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse and co-ordinator of the DWHN stated that the report called the lack of paid emergency leave a “chronic health hazard and an acute public health crisis. She also stated that the best way to ensure there’s no disruption to income or financial penalty when workers need to stay home was legislating employer-provided paid sick days.
The report made several recommendations to help close the gaps and mitigate these risks and challenges. They included:
- Prohibiting the requirement of sick notes due to the unnecessary barrier it creates and the burden it adds to the healthcare system
- Making sure the leave is long enough to cover common illnesses or any family and caregiving responsibilities
- Making sure the leave covered family emergencies as well
- Having employers automatically provide an extra 14 days of paid emergency leave during public health emergencies
- Having all provincial, territorial, and federal jurisdictions mandate employers permanently allow at least seven days of paid emergency leave
- Ensuring that these are fully paid sick days (full income)
- Ensuring that coverage is universal, with no exemptions on status or employer