Paid leave is key to limiting people going into a workplace when they’re sick. That could mean COVID symptoms this year or the flu next year. In the absence of sick days, many lower-paid workers choose to work instead of calling in sick. Doing so risks the health of their colleagues and customers, but bills have to be paid.
Many progressive business owners have been paying for sick days for years. For example, “I have always paid six days even when I didn’t have to pay sick days; part-time employees get the same as full time employees for benefits,” says Ron Kronebusch, owner of Ottawa-based KMP-Events Canada.
As a business owner, I think that three days is a good start. It will enable employees to take time off to get vaccinated and tested, with the peace of mind of not losing their pay. I hope that this will help stop the spread of the virus. But are three days enough if someone is truly sick and must stay home? Critics are pushing for a minimum of 10 days, but who is going to pay for it?
“We have a few paid sick days, paid time to get vaccinated/appointments, extended health benefits, stringent safety protocols, and unlimited job protection if staff need to be off,” says Kyla Cullain, co-founder of BuildAble. “[But] as small business owners that value a high living wage for our staff, adding on 10 employer-paid sick days, with already limited supports in a pandemic, would be a monstrous cost. We’ll figure it out — but for the majority of us who are not Amazon, this will be another hit to those genuinely trying their best to do everything right.”
It almost feels like a game of hot potato: We all want to play, but no one wants to be left with the financial burden of doing what is right for our labour force. What if we approached a permanent paid sick leave similar to the “forced savings” approach of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Employment Insurance (EI) and Vacation Pay where everyone — the employer, the government and the employee — contributed at source?
As it stands right now, small-business owners deduct and match employee contributions to the CPP dollar for dollar and contribute 1.4 times what employees pay on EI (up to a maximum). As well, if an employee works even just one hour, they are entitled to at least four per cent (or six per cent, depending on length of employment) of the hour’s wages as vacation pay. If all three sides contributed to a standardized sick-leave benefit, it would allow for a more permanent solution that everybody would be invested in.
To contain a contagious disease, it makes sense to encourage people to stay home when they feel sick. We want to help our staff as much as we can. The province’s temporary solution is a small step in the right direction. A silver lining from the pandemic would be the creation of a permanent sick-leave system in which government, business owners and employees work collectively, so we can truly say we are all in this together.
Karla Briones is a local immigrant entrepreneur and owner of Global Pet Foods Kanata & Hintonburg; Freshii Westboro; founder of the Immigrants Developing Entrepreneurs Academy; and an independent business consultant. The opinions here are her own. Her column will appear every two weeks.
This content was originally published here.