The Ontario Legislature returned to work today, and one of the first orders of business came from Guelph’s own Member of Provincial Parliament. Mike Schreiner spent his first day back at the Legislature putting forward a private member’s bill to amend the Employment Standards Act and disavow the part that allows employers to demand a sick note from an employee that takes a day off due to illness.
“The Premier’s praise of front-line workers is hollow if he doesn’t allow them to stay home when they are ill,” Schreiner said in a statement. “I’ve been trying to get rid of sick notes since before the pandemic because it is important that people can self-isolate without having to prove their illness.”
Before losing the provincial election in 2018, the former Liberal government changed the Act to give all employees 10 person emergency leave days per year, and eliminated the employer requirement for doctor’s notes. In October 2018, the new government under Premier Doug Ford brought forward the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, which reinstated the option for employers to require sick notes. It was a move that health professionals raised red flags about at the time.
“This is a policy that will send more patients with uncomplicated viral illnesses into my emergency waiting room solely to get documentation so they don’t lose their jobs,” said Kate Hayman, an emergency physician in Toronto and spokesperson for the Decent Work & Health Network told the Globe & Mail in 2018.
“It’s bad health policy,” Dr. Hayman added. “It’s not a good use of health care dollars and is shifting cost back on to the public system. For a government that talks about efficiencies, it’s nonsensical.”
With the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, the Provincial government temporarily removed the mandate for sick notes again saying that people shouldn’t be concerned about losing their jobs if they happen to contract the virus, or are forced to self-quarantine after possible exposure. “Our government is protecting workers so they can focus on their own health, and the health of their families and communities, without fear of losing their jobs,” Ford said back in March.
Schreiner’s bill would make the temporary pause more permanent, and it comes on the heels of new concerns about a second wave of COVID-19. On Monday, there were 313 newly confirmed cases of the virus to bring the total number of active cases up to 1,848, and that represents a day-over-day increase of 0.7 per cent in new COVID cases.
“It was reckless of the Premier to bring back sick notes in 2018, and this pandemic has shown that it is downright dangerous to keep this policy moving forward,” Schreiner said. “Forcing people to visit the doctor’s office places an unnecessary burden on our healthcare system and puts others at risk of contracting COVID-19.”
“This is just one of the many changes that are needed to uphold our respect for workers,” Schreiner added. “I look forward to all parties and MPPs supporting my effort to bring back some common sense to Ontario’s sick leave laws.”