Employees across Canada have been impacted inequitably by COVID-19. Many of us have been shocked to learn that huge numbers of essential workers don’t have paid sick days, including – shockingly – thousands of frontline healthcare workers. The evidence also shows that many employees who don’t have paid sick days also have low wages, and often can’t work from home during a pandemic. 

Why now?

We have learned the hard way that mitigating public health crises means making it possible for all employees to stay home when sick, without losing pay. 

As the business community prepares for reopening, many of us are reflecting on how this should be done. What protections need to be in place to ensure our employees are not forced to choose between their health and their livelihood? Can we help manage the impact of the ongoing deadly COVID-19 pandemic? How do we prepare for a possible second wave? How can we establish a health safety net that protects all of us?

One step in the right direction is mandatory paid sick time for all employees. The intention to develop such a policy was recently announced by the federal government. Paid sick days for all is something Ontario briefly had in place in 2018, before the policy was scrapped by the current government. 

That decision has aged quite poorly.

We need to join other jurisdictions in offering paid sick time

Ontario would be in good company with a renewed policy on paid sick days for all. San Francisco has had paid sick days for more than 10 years. In a study of 727 employers, six out of seven reported
no negative effect on profitability. New York state has followed suit, mandating employers provide between 40 and 56 hours of paid emergency leave each year. This permanent measure is on top of the 14 days already mandated as a temporary measure resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

At our small business Fivewalls.com, we know our employees well. It’s rare that someone will abuse a paid sick day. In our experience, it’s more often the case that we have to tell someone to go home sick. The fact that it’s still legal under regular circumstances to require a sick note for even unpaid time off is preposterous. We can’t afford to waste our medical community’s time and expertise like this.

Making paid sick days the “new normal” beyond COVID-19

Why wouldn’t all businesses offer paid sick days, not only during a public health crisis but before a potentially dangerous situation gets to this point?

It might take some time for businesses to become familiar with the benefits of paid sick time for employees. Fortunately, we’ve learned first hand that what’s good for public health in this case is also good for business. Studies have shown that paid sick time decreases employee turnover, saving businesses money.

Employees are more likely to come to work sick if they are not paid for the day. But the cost of workers’ compensation for a serious mistake or even just wasted time and subpar work is much greater than a day’s pay.

Yet, this pandemic has made clear that we can’t leave the decision to implement paid sick days up to individual employers. Without everyone having access to paid sick days, we are putting whole communities – and our own businesses – at risk. That is why we need government leadership to re-implement paid sick days for all.

As part of an organization of businesses for decent work, good quality jobs, and fair employment standards, we hope that every employer who receives support during this time will step up and think about making policies such as paid sick days a priority. Thinking beyond COVID-19, it’s time to make decent work and paid sick days the “new normal.” 

It will protect all of us.

Paul Hayman, Founder, Fivewalls.com and President of Hayman & Associates Consulting

Gilleen Pearce, Coordinator, Better Way Alliance

About Fivewalls: Fivewalls.com empowers home buyers and sellers to find the best real estate agent for their families. We’ve done all the work for you by creating one secure site to meet and contact top real estate professionals from leading brokerages.

About the Better Way Alliance: The Better Way Alliance is a growing movement of businesses supporting decent wages, paid sick days, and fair scheduling laws. Decent work is good for business. Our members employ more than 30,000 Ontarians. Industries represented include services, retail, food and beverage, and manufacturing.