A Loblaws store is seen Monday, March 9, 2015 in Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

A Loblaws store is seen Monday, March 9, 2015 in Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

In absence of mandated paid sick days, some Canadian companies are stepping up

Without paid sick leave, workers bear the cost of lost income if they don’t come to work, labour experts say

As it becomes increasingly clear that workplaces are a key transmission location in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Canadian employers are offering paid sick leave to their employees in the absence of government action.

Paid sick leave benefits, which allow workers to call in sick without fear of losing a day’s pay, are becoming a political issue across the country, especially in Ontario. The benefit is one of the measures recommended by a group of experts who advise the Ontario government on COVID-19 measures, but has so far been turned down.

To date, there have been a total of 825 workplace outbreaks in the province’s two biggest COVID-19 hot spots — 423 in Toronto and 402 in neighbouring Peel Region.

Last year, roughly 2,000 people with COVID-19 reported going into work following the onset of their symptoms and at least 80 worked for one or more days after a positive test result, according to Peel’s public health unit.

Without paid sick leave, workers bear the cost of lost income if they don’t come to work, labour experts say.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Without paid sick leave, there’s pressure on especially lower-income workers to come into work even if they’re not feeling well,” said Raji Jayaraman, an economics professor at the University of Toronto.

The Canadian Press contacted 36 employers across the country where workers must be physically present, seeking information about their paid sick leave policies.

Fourteen of those companies said they offer such benefits, including CIBC, Dollarama Inc., WestJet Airlines Ltd., Kraft Heinz Co. and Labatt Brewing Co.

Grocer Loblaw Cos. Ltd. introduced programs for all full- and part-time employees “to ensure no one would lose pay for COVID-related absences,” said spokeswoman Catherine Thomas.

She added that “thousands of employees” have used its “pay protection program,” which she said amounts to paid sick days during the pandemic.

Rival grocer Metro Inc. also offers paid sick days “to a number of unionized employees depending on their collective agreement as well as to a number of employees who are not unionized,” said vice-president of communications Marie-Claude Bacon in an email.

Meanwhile, Air Canada employees who suspect they have COVID-19 are paid while they determine whether they have the virus, if supported by appropriate documentation, said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.

Enbridge Inc. employees “get as much paid time as they need to get well,” said spokeswoman Tracie Kenyon in an email. She added that the company has paid sick leave for employees for 14 calendar days, as well as short-term disability benefits if more time is needed.

General Motors Co. said it has provisions in place to support employees who cannot work because they are sick or have been asked by GM to self-isolate or quarantine.

Provisions include flexible work arrangements, temporary leave, and paid sickness and accident benefits, said Jennifer Wright, director of communications for GM Canada.

“Under our collective agreements with Unifor and our salary work policies, we have provisions in place to support employees who cannot work because they are sick or who have been asked by GM to self isolate or quarantine,” she said in an email.

Toy and game maker Spin Master Corp. said it provides employees with five personal paid days per year, which they can use for personal illness or to care for others in their family who may be ill. They do not require a doctor’s note.

“For those employees who may have contracted COVID or who have had to care from someone with the virus, we have been making every accommodation, including extended paid sick or caregiver leave,” said spokeswoman Lauren Colt in an email.

Auto parts maker Magna International Inc. provides paid leave that can be used for vacation, personal use or if someone is sick, said Tracy Fuerst, vice-president of corporate communications, in an email.

Tim Hortons did not directly answer questions about whether it offers workers paid sick days. However, a spokesperson said a program funded equally by the company and franchisees “ensures that Tim Hortons team members who have contracted COVID-19 or who are self-isolating at the specific request of the government, medical authority or restaurant owner will be compensated for scheduled hours for up to 14 days.”

Tim Hortons did not respond to followup questions regarding whether the program covers employees who stay home if they suspect they may be sick.

Maple Leaf Foods also did not directly answer questions about its paid sick leave policy. The company “is providing nourishing food people need during this pandemic and we are committed to finding the best ways to fill our essential role and keep our people safe at the same time,” said Janet Riley, vice-president of communications.

Scotiabank said employees are eligible to receive full salary for 10 days of combined sick and personal time with no doctor’s note required. Employees sick for more than a week can apply for short-term disability, a fully bank-paid benefit that provides full compensation for the first eight weeks. Documentation may be required.

A spokeswoman for BMO Financial Group said the safety of its colleagues, customers, and communities is a priority.

“BMO provides excused paid days to all regular employees, in all jurisdictions, to support quarantine requirements due to exposure to or a diagnosis of COVID-19,” Natasha Boeck said in an email.

“In situations where an employee falls ill as a result of COVID-19, they can utilize their sick days and if the situation persists, employees may also apply for short-term disability.”

TD Bank and RBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bulk Barn, Canada Goose, Canadian Tire, Couche-Tard, DavidsTea, Dollar Tree, Dorel, Sobeys parent Empire Co. Ltd., Freshii, Honda Canada, Kinder Morgan, Martinrea, McCain Foods, Second Cup, Stellantis Canada (formerly FCA Canada) and Suncor did not respond to a request for comment.

A representative of Linamar said its CEO and spokesperson, Linda Hasenfratz, was unavailable for comment.

Paid sick days should be legislated through governments’ employment standards to make sure all workers have access to it, said Carolina Jimenez, a co-ordinator with advocacy group Decent Work and Health Network.

Only 42 per cent of working Canadians say they have access to paid sick leave, while only around 10 per cent of low-wage workers do, data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows.

“Workplaces are key drivers of infection. We’ve seen these numbers time and time again,” said Jimenez, who is also a registered nurse in Toronto.

“It’s no coincidence that these are the very same places that employ workers at minimum wage, with very little protection, no paid sick days.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Just Posted

Before you take on a pet, make sure you want to have it for life. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Editorial: A pet is a lifetime commitment

Tons of people are getting pets during the pandemic, some for the first time

North Cowichan to consider implementing a new policy on cell towers in the municipality. (File photo)
North Cowichan to consider cell tower policy

Rogers Communications proposal prompts North Cowichan to revisit policy on the structures

Cowichan Valley school district to get new electric-powered bus by the end of the school year. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley school district to get new electric-powered school bus

Bus one of 18 to be distributed across the province

Condemned building of the Twin Gables Motel in Crofton is not safe and yet a teen has been climbing around on the roof while others were ripping the siding off the building. (Submitted)
Destructive behaviour by teens wreaking havoc on Crofton

Residents becoming fed up with the constant vandalism and fires

This tractor was stolen from Providence Farm near Duncan between May 6 and 7, 2021. (Submitted)
Tractor stolen from Cowichan’s Providence Farm

John Deere X300 model was swiped between May 6 and 7

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

A nurse asks screening questions at an immunization appointment in Nanaimo earlier this year. (Shawn Wagar/Island Health photo)
Island Health appreciates nurses answering the call in challenging times

Health authority draws attention to National Nursing Week

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

What3words was first created in the U.K. in 2013 and is credited to saving the lives of outdoor enthusiasts around the world. (Contributed)
‘This is a life saving tool’: App helps paramedics find capsized canoeists near Revelstoke

What3words pinpoints the person’s phone location to a three-meter range

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

These are just a handful of Vancouver Island’s missing person cases. Clockwise from top left: Lisa Marie Young, Lindsey Nicholls, Micheal Dunahee, Jesokah Adkens, Belinda Cameron and Emma Fillipoff. (File photos courtesy of family members and police departments)
Could Victoria skull fragment bring closure to an Island missing persons mystery?

Skeletal remains found in Greater Victoria have not yet been identified

Most Read