Letter to the Editor: Working sick a different matter for those without paid sick days

letter to the editor

Karen Brownrigg’s op-ed entitled, “Do I take a sick day, or do I work sick? The decision is not so easy anymore” asks important questions about the difficult decisions around whether to take time off for illness or not. She is right to ask these questions. What is missing from this analysis, though, is the added layer of complexity for the millions of workers all around the country who do not have access to paid sick days. For them, the calculation is different — work sick or risk falling behind on bills, or worse.

I own a business and work in the food service industry, which, as a whole, has not typically viewed taking time off for illness very favourably. But like so many things, the pandemic has impacted this issue. In many ways, the reality of prolonged and severe illness has nudged some employers in my industry toward an openness to providing employee benefits such as paid sick leave; worker retention through improved working conditions is central to retaining our workforce. But shifting a culture and mindsets can take time and, in Ontario, the government has failed to pass any meaningful, permanent changes to the Employment Standards Act that would give sick workers better protection. In food service, this is leading to an exodus of workers who are seeking better working conditions. While mindsets are slowly changing among business leaders, we cannot wait for every employer to come around. Governments must act.

Giving employees the option to stay home when they are sick is not just a moral imperative, it makes business sense. The Better Way Alliance (BWA), a group of business owners across multiple industries,  just released a report outlining the business case for paid sick days, stable scheduling and higher wages. This report is backed up by thorough research and it outlines how improved working conditions (such as offering paid sick days) contribute to business’ success through better productivity and better worker retention.

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I hope the BWA’s analysis not only reaches other business owners, but also politicians who have been dragging their heels on updating our anti-worker and short-sighted laws on sick leave. Employers in Ontario (and most provinces for that matter) are not obligated to provide this benefit to their employees. To ensure a long-term economic recovery, this has to change, and quickly. We can’t keep pretending that businesses don’t have a stake in public health.

Op-ed: Do I take a sick day, or do I work sick? The decision is not so easy anymore

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