As the pandemic wanes and Ontarians head to the polls for a provincial election, it is time to focus once again on paid sick leave.
The pandemic has amplified social inequalities present in our society as lived experiences have differed vastly based on income. Hourly workers have been disproportionately affected relative to salary workers. For hourly workers, taking time off, even due to illness, can result in lost wages. The fear of losing wages incentivizes people who are sick to come in for work, despite the risk of infecting others. A study conducted by Peel Public Health found that 25 per cent of people experiencing symptoms that could be associated with COVID-19 returned to work despite their ailments.
For many, a consistent paycheque is crucial to providing necessities such as food and housing.
The Ontario government announced a sick-leave plan last April and Ontario extended it until July 2022 but only three days are covered for each worker. What if an illness takes longer than three days to recover from? Isolation from COVID-19 can take from five to 10 days.
A paid sick-leave program reduced workplace spread of influenza by up to 39.22 per cent.
According to Ontario’s own COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, the temporary paid sick-leave program in the United States was associated with close to a 50 per cent reduction in the number of COVID cases per state per day. A study published in American Journal for Public Health, showed that a paid sick-leave program reduced workplace spread of influenza by up to 39.22 per cent.
There are obvious economic benefits to a government-funded, paid sick-leave program. Absenteeism can impact production, hinder sales and ultimately slow the progression of a business, leading to fiscally unfavorable outcomes for all involved. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to the effects of absences but small businesses are also less likely to be able to offer paid sick leave as it might be too costly.
Ultimately, ensuring that workers can take time off and receive appropriate care helps save taxpayer money. If a worker is not able to go to a physician for care due to work obligations, the condition may worsen and eventually force an emergency room visit. The cost of an emergency room visit to the health-care system begins at $304, while the cost of an average family physician assessment is in the $50-$100 range. Penny-counting aside, let’s not trivialize the significant costs of treating disease in a country without a national drug program.
According to a joint analysis completed by Panorama and the American Sustainable Business Council, profit per full-time employee increased 25.8 per cent in the technology sector and 10.9 per cent in manufacturing after the implementation of a paid sick-leave program. The Centre for Economic and Policy Research also noted that nearly 85 per cent of organizations reported no overall increase in business costs following sick-leave implementation.
The Ford government has voted down a bill to establish a longer sick-leave program before, but as the election campaign heats up and Ontarians head to the polls June 2, it is time to rethink paid sick leave. Ontarians should not have to pick between their health and putting food on the table for their family. It is time that the provincial government develops a strategy that keeps sick individuals out of the workplace.
COVID will not be the last pandemic we face. Implementing a strong paid sick leave program can help prepare for the next one.