Sick Time and Mental Health Support: A Chamber Perspective

Sick Time and Mental Health Support: A Chamber Perspective

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Kathleen MacEachern

Each year, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce submits a policy resolution to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. If adopted, the Canadian Chamber would then look to add the issue to their portfolio of advocacy work. This year our resolution focused on sick days and mental health, and the necessity for paid sick time provided by the Federal government. We are hopeful that we will soon see a movement towards mandated paid-sick time, but until we do, we hope our resolution can bring this issue to the forefront of government dialogues and business meetings across Canada.

2021 Canadian Chamber of Commerce Resolution

If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that our health is never to be taken for granted. Businesses rely on healthy people not only to work for their organization but to consume their goods and services. Prior to COVID-19, employees would often go to work sick, especially if paid sick-time was not available. We know employees want their workplaces going forward to be a safe space where employers take health seriously and mitigate the risk of exposure and spread. Recently, the Government of Nova Scotia implemented up to four paid sick days for COVID-19 related illnesses. “We want employees to stay home if they are feeling unwell and follow public health protocols to help reduce the spread of COVID,” said Premier Iain Rankin. “Paid sick leave means they won’t have to make a difficult decision between their health and the health of others, or their financial well-being." While Nova Scotians are optimistic about this program, it is a short-term solution for a larger, long-term, and potentially ongoing problem. The Federal Government needs to take a more significant role in providing paid sick leave for Canadian employees to keep workplaces healthy and safe, post-pandemic.

It might be hard to believe but “Canada ranks in the bottom quarter globally when it comes to providing paid sick leave for workers on the first day of illness, according to the DWHN report.” Mandated sick days are legally required only in Quebec and PEI, leaving many Canadian employees (and employers) at risk for having to attend work sick. If left unchecked, this situation could be detrimental to not only the health of employees but the employer’s business as well. It is no secret that both our physical and mental health are important for healthy and thriving organizations, and it is well known that the two are linked. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It states that “there is no health without mental health.”

At the Halifax Chamber, we recently surveyed our members on their opinion about sick time, mental health, and the impact of COVID-19 on both. We learned that the pandemic has played a significantly negative role on those in the workforce. Of those surveyed;

  • 55% have said their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic
  • 10% said it had a positive impact.
  • 54% of employers indicated mental health days are included in their sick days.
  • 30% indicated they have mental health days in addition to sick days.
  • 63% are supportive of the Federal Government's plan to introduce 10 sick days as part of Employee Insurance (EI) benefits, citing its likelihood to encourage employees to stay at home when sick, ensure employees are paid when sick, and help businesses that can’t afford paid sick-time.

The numbers across Canada do not fare as well, with 58% of workers across Canada not having access to paid sick leave, which jumps to 70% for low-wage workers. With health being a provincial mandate/responsibility, it is natural to advocate individual provincial governments to implement changes in sick day policy. Unfortunately, issues like political will and lengthy legislative amendments would not make this an appealing process for our provincial leaders.

If Canadian provincial governments will not step up to support funding mandated paid sick-time, we believe the Federal Government should guarantee Canadians can have a healthy workplace and/or the ability to stay home when ill. This is not only for the benefit of the employee but the employer––our members who are the heart of Canadian chambers. In fact, 76% of employers who took our survey indicated they would pay employees for additional sick days, granted they receive reimbursement from EI. A program wherein businesses could be reimbursed for greater than three to four days of paid sick time makes good health and economic sense. Paid sick time increases worker’s stability, and the average productivity of employees decreases by 20% when working sick. Therefore, paid sick time lowers the costs associated with missed time, backlogs, and new hires.

As the Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer often says, good health policy is good economic policy.

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