TORONTO — A group of health-care providers is calling on Ontario’s government to immediately reinstate paid sick days and stop employers from asking for doctors’ notes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The coronavirus outbreak has exposed a critical need for labour laws that improve health instead of undermining it,” Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse and coordinator of the Decent Work & Health Network, told reporters at Queen’s Park Thursday.
“As health providers, our hands are tied,” she said. “Our medical advice is to stay at home if you’re sick and it is made meaningless because so many of our patients do not have the financial means to do so.”
In 2018, Premier Doug Ford’s government axed a requirement for employers to provide at least two paid sick days per year and gave employers the power to require a doctor’s note when a worker takes time off.
There were 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario as of noon Thursday. Another 536 are under investigation.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending that workplaces help contain the spread of COVID-19 by suspending the need for sick notes, relaxing time-off policies and reducing social contact when possible.
Jimenez said Thursday that a permanent law should be put in place to give workers seven paid sick days per year and 10 unpaid days for emergencies without fear of losing their job.
Watch: Prime minister in self-isolation as wife gets tested for COVID-19. Story continues after video.
Writing sick notes is a waste of time for health-care workers, added Dr. Edward Xie, a Toronto emergency physician.
“Our hospitals and ERs are already facing record wait times. This is a very costly way to provide sick notes.”
He also said that food service or child care workers, who come into contact with scores of people every day, might not be able to afford time off.
“Their next pay cheque might be the difference between having food on the table or not, paying the rent or not,” Xie said.
“Think of the servers and care workers you come across every day. Will they have the option of staying home when they’re sick?”
The premier said Thursday that his government had a discussion about changing the law for doctor’s notes but decided not to for now.
“We’ve had this discussion with the minister of labour. We’ll be talking about that in future days and future weeks. But right now we’re monitoring it,” Ford said, before pivoting to praise his ministers.
The ministers of labour and long-term care did not directly answer questions about paid time off and doctor’s notes at the legislature Thursday.
“Doctors, nurses and public health specialists are all speaking out for a simple reason: There is no point — no point whatsoever — in telling workers to take time away from work if their work won’t allow that to happen,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in question period.
“Why is the government refusing to adopt these common-sense measures?”
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said he was watching the situation closely.
“I encourage employers to be reasonable, to be responsible, and the ones I’ve spoken to have acted that way.”