The B.C. government is looking to bolster the federal Sickness Recovery Benefit for workers. (Unsplash.com photo by Kelly Sikkema)

The B.C. government is looking to bolster the federal Sickness Recovery Benefit for workers. (Unsplash.com photo by Kelly Sikkema)

Column: Pandemic gives cause to consider paid sick leave

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere

On one of my worst (ie: disgusting) sick days, I had, er, stuff, unexpectedly discharging from more than one bodily orifice.

Thankfully, that wasn’t a work day. If it had been, there’s no way I would have gone to work. There’s no way any of my co-workers would have wanted me there.

I know, that’s a disgusting way to start a column. But sometimes when I’m sick – like raw sore throat, snotty nose, head–achy sick – I can feel pretty disgusting and am kind of disgusting to be around.

Fortunately, I work for a company that offers paid sick leave.

Unfortunately, many others do not.

COVID-19 has pushed paid sick leave onto centre stage in British Columbia politics as well as at the federal level.

Currently in B.C., there are no laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. The province did amend the Employment Standards Act so workers are entitled to up to three hours of paid leave to get vaccinated.

Given the impact the virus has had on the economy, with shutdowns and layoffs, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice (assuming the time is used as intended) to help get things back to that place where people at the workplace aren’t constantly on tenterhooks about everything COVID-19, including what restrictions the next round of provincial health orders might bring.

Supposedly, the B.C. government is also going to introduce a program that fills in gaps in the federal Sickness Recovery Benefit, which offers workers $450 per week (after taxes) in sick pay.

For up to four weeks,B.C. Premier John Horgan said his government was looking for a seamless way of implementing a provincial plan, “without putting more burden on business at a time when business can least afford it.”

Read more: Worker fears getting COVID-19 without sick leave, wants B.C. to act

Read more: Paid sick leave for ‘hard-hit’ workers left out of provincial budget: BCFED

That latter part is a huge consideration – along with many other variables – as to whether or not a business can offer a day or days of non-virus specific sick leave.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has shown there is a benefit to having some form of a paid out for ill employees who need to and want to work and/or feel they could lose their job if they don’t show up for work.

Asymptomatic cases aside, those who go to work sick are likely to be less productive and not at the top of their game.

There’s a word for this: “presenteeism.” It’s roughly when job-related needs are prioritized over personal health.

Of course, this comes with the risk of spreading a workplace epidemic.

With the ongoing pandemic, the temporary decimation of a workforce versus a few paid sick days doesn’t seem so far-fetched an equation. It’s certainly no less simplistic than telling workers, “If you’re sick, stay home.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this column said three hours paid sick leave could also be used to help transport dependent family members to get vaccinated. This would be allowed only as unpaid leave in B.C.


lachlan@saobserver.net
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British Columbia