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

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Premier Jason Kenney says the provincial government is doing everything it can to encourage Albertans to get vaccinated. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Travel prizes added to Alberta’s vaccine lottery

More than 40 travel rewards available for those who are fully vaccinated

Stettler town hall
Town approves Canada Day fireworks show, using phase two health restrictions

The funding for the fireworks show has already been allocated

Castor Evangelical Missionary Church Pastor Brent Siemens, celebrating five years in Castor, reflects on the journey that brought him to the community. Kevin J. Sabo photo
Castor pastor celebrates five years of serving the community

Brent Siemens is the pastor of Castor’s Evangelical Missionary Church

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer down to 102 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 332 cases with 26 in hospital and five in ICU

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

A nurse prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Thomas
Vancouver couple pleads guilty to breaking Yukon COVID rules, travelling for vaccine

Chief Judge Michael Cozens agreed with a joint sentencing submission,

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

COVID-related trash is washing up on shorelines across the world, including Coldstream’s Kal Beach, as pictured in this May 2021 photograph. (Jennifer Smith - Black Press)
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

Most Read