Province's new rule around sick notes takes effect

Healthcare professionals other than doctors can also sign medical notes as of July 1

Province's new rule around sick notes takes effect

Nova Scotia employers’ ability to ask workers for sick notes has taken a hit with a new rule taking effect in the province.

Employers in the province 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.

The new rule took effect July 1.

Changes to the rules are in the Medical Certificates for Employee Absences Act, which the legislature passed in the spring as part of the Patient Access to Care Act

“Nova Scotians who are sick should not have to worry about going to the doctor to ask for a sick note,” says Jill Balser, minister of labour, skills and immigration. “Employers should only ask for sick notes in limited circumstances, as outlined in the act.”

Prior to this legislation taking effect, employers could request a sick note regardless of the length of an employees’ absence due to illness or injury.

Previously, Mike Schreiner, MPP for Guelph, Ont., proposed a private member’s bill that would permanently revoke routine sick notes.

Who can sign sick notes?

Under the new Nova Scotia rule, healthcare professionals other than doctors will also be allowed to sign sick notes – when employees do need one.

Notes can come from any regulated healthcare provider who is providing care, such as nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physiotherapists or social workers.

“Our healthcare professionals should spend their valuable time providing care, not doing paperwork,” says Michelle Thompson, minister of health and wellness. “By reducing unnecessary administrative tasks like writing sick notes, we free up time for doctors and other healthcare providers to help more Nova Scotians get the healthcare they need, faster.”

Nova Scotia’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness consulted with doctors to understand the administrative burden of sick notes. It is estimated that doctors in Nova Scotia spend 50,000 hours a year writing sick notes, according to the provincial government.

The Patient Access to Care Act also includes administrative rules to make it easier for licensed healthcare providers from other jurisdictions to work in Nova Scotia. It also amended the Workers' Compensation Act to allow the government to prescribe Workers Compensation Board forms and documents to improve the process for Nova Scotians and doctors.

Back in early 2014, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) took a stand against requiring employees to obtain sick notes during flu season, saying it helped spread the flu — either through forcing contagious employees to go to doctor’s offices and spreading it there, or forcing them to decide to go to work instead of calling in sick and spreading there.

“From the perspective of employers, it makes sense to ensure that employees who call in sick are really sick — absent employees can hurt the bottom line, especially if sick leave is abused,” Jeffrey R. Smith, employment law editor for Canadian HR Reporter, previously said. “And if an employee is off work for a long time, the absence should be supported by medical evidence so the employer can get an idea of the chance of more sick leave, a potential return to work, or if accommodation might be needed.”

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