Growing calls for suspension of sick notes with COVID-19

Trudeau announces changes to EI, work-sharing programs

Growing calls for suspension of sick notes with COVID-19

With the slow expansion of people suffering from the COVID-19 virus in Canada, at least two unions are calling for a suspension of the usual requirements around doctor’s notes.

All British Columbia employers should waive the requirement for employees to provide a note from a doctor to access their sick leave in light of the ongoing outbreak, says the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).

“[This] creates a needless administrative hurdle for workers, an additional strain on our health-care system, and an increased risk of spreading the infection,” says Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU.

This was echoed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) union, whose president also called for an end to the requirement for doctor’s notes.

“Put simply, this requirement is a public health risk that should be ended,” says Jerry Earle, NAPE president. “We should have trust in workers to know what’s best for them, their coworkers and the public. When someone is sick, they should stay home. Workers should be able to stay home and focus on getting better, not have to head out to a doctor’s office to get a note only to spread viruses and infection.”

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health and Community Services announced March 10 that regional health authority employees who are exhibiting respiratory illness symptoms will not be required to provide a sick note for absence periods of less than 14 days.

Pay concerns
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced it will waive the one-week waiting period for employment insurance (EI) to assist workers and businesses affected by the novel coronavirus.

The government is also introducing “special measures” under the Work-Sharing program to help employers that fall under hard times due to COVID-19. The EI program is meant to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary decrease in business activity beyond the control of the employer. The program provides EI benefits to eligible employees who agree to reduce their normal working hours and share the available work while their employer recovers.

“No one should have to worry about their job if they have to be quarantined. No employer should feel they have to lay off a worker because of the virus,” says Trudeau.

Employees’ finances should not be affected by them contracting the disease, says the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFED).

“Ensuring paid and protected sick leave during a pandemic is an immediate and practical step governments can take to protect public health, limit the spread of infection, and remove an untenable choice for workers,” says Laird Cronk.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., many companies are cancelling business trips, communicating with employees and allowing for remote work because of the outbreak, according to a recent survey.

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