As the second wave of the pandemic continues to flare, the Ontario Legislature is moving forward on a small measure of assistance for workers with an amendment to the Employment Standards Act that will no longer force workers to get a sick note at their employer’s request. Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner’s private members bill has passed second reading, and it’s well on it’s way to amending the law.
On Wednesday, Bill 200 passed second reading with unanimous support, and will now be debated in the Standing Committee on General Governance. The bill amends the language in the act to say that an employer *may* “require an employee who takes leave under this section to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances, but they can not require an employee to provide “a certificate from a qualified health practitioner.”
That means employers will no longer be able to force employees to bring a doctor’s note as proof of illness, a requirement that medical professionals have long argued causes added bureaucracy in the system with people seeing a doctor to only to get a note.
“Requiring sick notes totally contradicts good public health. Whether a worker has COVID-19 symptoms or any other illness, we need to trust them, let them stay home and recover,” said Schreiner in a statement Wednesday.
Schreiner introduced Bill 200 last month to make permanent the emergency changes brought by the Ford government in the spring, which itself overrides changes made by the Ford government in 2018 when they reinstated the requirement for sick notes for work absences.
“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 last month at the Legislature. “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.”
Schreiner’s motion has been backed up by labour leaders and business leaders alike.
“Requiring employees provide a sick note is not only a burden on an already over-stretched health care system, but also poses increased and unnecessary health risks to the employee and public health in general,” said Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates in a statement. “Doug Ford has repeatedly said ‘if you’re sick, stay home.’ It’s time the Ford government permanently cement that direction into legislation.”
“Prioritizing public health is our best long-term economic strategy,” said Shakiba Shayani, the president of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce in a statement. “The Guelph Chamber of Commerce encourages the Ontario government to end the application of employer-requested sick notes under section 50 of the ESA, in order to ease the burden on our healthcare system and minimize people’s exposure to the spread of illness.”
The bill be get a third reading once it comes out of committee, and then it will go into effect one month after receiving Royal Assent. When that will be though is still to be determined.
“This is about respecting workers and the valuable time of physicians. I was happy to get all-party support. We need to learn from COVID-19 and fix the government’s mistake in reinstating sick notes,” Schreiner added Wednesday.