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Op-ed – We need to fix sick leave provisions for workers in Nova Scotia, not take them away

danny_sick_leaveIt is time to fix sick leave provisions for all workers in Nova Scotia and create a minimum standard for improved sick-leave policies in provincial Labour Standards for non-unionized workers.

We often hear from doctors, medical professionals, the NS Department of Health and other Ministries that workers should stay home if they are sick, especially when it comes to infectious diseases like influenza. The Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization also provide the same advice.

Going to work while sick is bad for you, your co-workers and your employer and it’s time to have paid sick days for all workers.  Employers think it costs more money, but the fact is that employers are better off if employees can take paid sick days to recover from an illness. Rather than suffer through when they’re feeling unwell, they can rest and come back better equipped to tackle the daily activities. It means a better and more productive workforce all around.

145 countries around the world offer workers the right to be compensated when they’re ill, but the majority of employees across Canada are only entitled to unpaid sick leave. We lag behind 145 countries that provide this basic benefit to employees.

Workers should stay home if they are sick to stop them from getting worse, to protect co-workers, save lost-time productivity and be paid.

It’s time to update current employment laws to protect workers when they get sick.

Workers in part-time, temporary or casual work and those earning low or minimum wages are not likely to have paid sick days. Without that, far too many workers are forced to go to work sick to avoid losing pay. Let’s ask ourselves about those who work in high-risk occupations?  What about daycare workers, food handlers in restaurants and food supply stores? No matter what your occupation, working sick is not working for Nova Scotia.

We need to think outside of the box and stop thinking that of making it sound like taking sick days is something bad. Let’s look at the real cost.  Many employers can legally require their employees to provide a sick note, which doctors complain clogs up clinics with sick patients who could have otherwise just recovered at home.

In the end these visits to clinics or hospitals expose sick people and others to infection, maybe additional time off work and possible charges to obtain a note. How much does this actually contribute to unnecessary backlogs in and cost to the healthcare system as a whole? For these reasons and more Doctors Nova Scotia, the Ontario Medical Association, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association have all called on employers to stop requiring medical notes.

I am calling on our province to implement the following changes that would be good for our health and well-being, good for our healthcare system, and good for workplaces:

Amend the Employment Standards Act so that all employees accrue a minimum of two (2) hours of paid sick time for every 35 hours worked and amend the Act to prohibit employers from requiring evidence such as medical notes to entitle workers to personal emergency leave or paid sick days. 

Having unpaid sick time costs the people who can least afford it, and it costs employers in lost productivity and morale. Let’s call upon the NS Government to put a stop to this.

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.



One Comment

  1. What about unionized (weak local) workers who have bully management who continually defy our collective agreement/contract and have recently decided that a doctor’s note is no longer good enough if you miss too much time. Example: employee 1 is a good worker, never late, doesn’t slack off; but unfortunately developed kidney stones and ended up in Emergency/hospital for 5 days. In the span of a month was under a urologist’s care and had 3 different surgical procedures. Employee 1 did attempt a few times to come in and try to work, but ended up leaving early due to nausea/severe pain. In the end Employee 1 missed much of the month, yet despite 2 notes/letters from the urologist plus a call to upper management explaining the biology of kidney stones and why Employee 1 had missed so much work and may need more time to fully heal; HR would not accept the surgeon’s notes or call and approached the employee twice to sign a verbal reprimand. Over the last 2 weeks, management has approached many employees; denied Doctor’s notes and have reprimanded them all. Employee 1 was told if more work was missed for any reason, they would receive some form of reprimand on their record. Just wondering if you had any thoughts on this as far as your organization is concerned; it would be very appreciated. Thank you.

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