While people showing signs of illness are encouraged to stay home from work, many simply can’t afford to miss out on the pay that would entail. With that in mind, regional officials are calling on the federal and provincial governments to implement paid sick leave.
“We know workplace outbreaks are a major obstacle in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our community. The current provincial and federal sick leave benefits are either unpaid or time restricted and that is unacceptable in a pandemic,” said regional Chair Karen Redman of the impetus for a motion passed unanimously last week by the Board of Health.
“Those who don’t have access to paid sick time may be more likely to attend work when they have symptoms of COVID-19 or need to self-isolate,” said medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang in a release. “Research shows that access to paid sick time can help reduce the spread of influenza-like illnesses in the workplace.”
Better sick leave policies would encourage people to stay home when they’re ill or having to self-isolate, providing financial security, regional officials argued.
The motion brought by Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic addresses the issues that lead people to perhaps disregard public health suggestions, noting current supports are limited at best.
“These programs generally either simply allow them to stay at home without pay, or give them some limited access to funding for an initial incident. But if, for example, you’re required to self-isolate a second or third time, those benefits aren’t in place. And that obviously becomes a concern,” said Vrbanovic at the board meeting January 6. “If we look at it from a purely statistical point of view, we know that consistently data has shown that some of our most vulnerable citizens are in fact susceptible to COVID-19. And yet, they’re typically the least able to afford to stay home without pay if they fall ill.”
Added regional Coun. Geoff Lorentz, “A lot of people don’t realize how many workers out there don’t really have sick leave. In fact, don’t really have many benefits. If you work in a unionized environment, it’s one thing; when you’re out there working for small employers, it’s a completely other.”
The regional motion is in keeping with similar moves by other municipal organization, including the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario, Canadian Municipalities’ Big Mayors’ Caucus.
Redman has also been vocal in support of the motion noting high levels of transmission.
“Dr. Wang presented evidence that workplace outbreaks are the major obstacle in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our community, and yet the current provincial and federal sick leave benefits are either unpaid or time restricted. And we feel that that’s inappropriate during a pandemic. Without paid sick benefits, people are more likely to go to work when they have symptoms of COVID-19 or when they should be self-isolating, unpaid or limited sick benefits might not cover recommended self-isolation days and put some workers in a difficult financial position. This motion adds our voice to numerous other municipalities pressing for better benefits,” she said.