P.E.I. minister of health calls for end to sick note requirements

Employers can request sick note after 3 consecutive days of illness

P.E.I. minister of health calls for end to sick note requirements

Prince Edward Island’s top ministry of health official is supporting the removal of sick notes requirements for workers to take a medical leave.

During question period in the Legislature on Friday, Green Party MLA Matt MacFarlane asked Mark McLane, minister of health, if he would support removing employers' sick-note option that's laid out in the province's Employment Standards Act. 

In response, McLane said: "I don't think that there's many employers that require [sick notes] anymore. But if they do, I would support the removal of them for sure,” according to a CBC report.

Under P.E.I.’s Employment Standards Act, employers can ask workers for a sick note after three consecutive days of illness. However, it's up to the individual employer to decide whether it implements such a policy, noted CBC in the report.

But workers in P.E.I. will have access to paid sick leave (PSL) effective Oct. 1, 2024 following changes to the province’s Employment Standards Act.

Ending sick notes about ‘trust’

Lifting the burden of writing sick notes from doctors and nurse practitioners would be a small step in easing their workloads, noted MacFarlane in the CBC report.

One emergency room doctor told MacFarlane that not a day goes by without someone waiting in the emergency room just to get a sick note, according to the report.

"To use the saying, ‘It's low-hanging fruit,’" he said. "Let's start picking away at some of the more accessible, simpler issues that are placing burdens on our doctors and nurse practitioners … to ease the lives and the burdens that's currently being placed on our health-care practitioners."

As of July 2023, employers in Nova Scotia can no longer request a sick note unless an employee is absent for more than five working days or has already had two absences of five or fewer working days in the previous 12-month period.

MacFarlane also said that the policy should be based on trust in employees.

"We don't build policy around the potential that people are going to abuse something," he said. "If someone is really sick to the point where they can't come into work after a period of time, chances are they're going to be seeing a doctor anyway — and using that opportunity to get better, to get treatment.

"In the course of that consultation, a note can be provided."

But taking that small step should not lure stakeholders away from "working through some of those more systemic challenges" facing P.E.I.’s health care system, he said.

In 2020, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) asked employers to discontinue requiring workers to provide sick notes to be allowed time off work amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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