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Sick notes are a sick joke

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There are very few compliments I am willing to concede for the provinces on the wrong side of the Rockies, but recent legislation in Ontario marks a trend that we should absolutely be following. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has put forward proposed workplace reform laws that in addition to promising a $15 minimum wage by 2019 would also provide 10 emergency or sick days for employees (two of which must be paid), and would also ban employers for asking for doctor’s notes for those days as long as that limit is not exceeded.

That last part may not seem like a big change, but it is incredibly influential in many sectors of our society and governance. Right now in B.C., while there is leave of absence time afforded under certain conditions (maternity, caring for family members, etc.), it is up to the employer to decide how to administer and deal with sick days.

I worked at a call centre a few years ago; it wasn’t exactly a thrilling job but the people were nice and the shifts were flexible enough considering I was taking classes. While they allowed the occasional no-show, sick days that didn’t have doctor’s notes would add up to disciplinary notes and long conversations during the frequent performance reviews. There was one occasion where I came down with a bad case of the flu, so I called in a day before my shift to give notice and I was told I would need a note.

By the next morning I was barely able to make it out of bed, but I got a ride from my mom to a nearby walk-in clinic, and after a long wait in line (where I exchanged viruses with everyone else in the room) I was finally able to be charged a fee to have an old man scribble his name on a pad. While I was there, I decided to get a prescription for something to help with the nausea, as I didn’t want to have to take more days off. However, it turns out I’m allergic to whatever I was given (don’t remember the name, but Wikipedia told me it was also classified as an antipsychotic), as I had a dystonic reaction while I was at school and had to drive myself to the emergency room as I lost motor function above the neck (my jaw clenched, my tongue was pressing itself against the roof of my mouth, and my head wouldn’t stop shaking). Obviously that took me out of commission for the evening, but I shit you not, when I showed up to my next shift and explained the situation management shuffled around before awkwardly asking me if I had a note. Luckily I had the hospital admittance bracelet in my back pocket, but I could tell they were contemplating whether that would be enough for their records and procedure before the expression on my face likely convinced them to just end the discussion.

I mean, I can’t blame them for the reaction I had to the prescription, but there are many reasons why worker protections should cover these situations and stop employers from implementing these policies. First is the obvious fact that this doesn’t account for mental health crises or issues; a walk-in clinic can really only attest to your physical well-being, which will have its recovery stalled by being forced to go to a clinic to have someone agree with you that you have a cold. Additionally, by having so many hoops to jump through and pressure on employees to not take time off, not only does it create resentment and sour the relationship but they are also more likely to come to work sick (with a lowered performance) and infect the rest of your staff. Also, as noted in a letter posted by the Pemberton Medical Clinic that made the rounds online this past year, the policy “puts added burden on the healthcare system” by clogging up offices and “does not support [the patient’s] recovery.” Furthermore, because providing a note is a service not covered by the provincial Medical Services Plan, the patients are burdened by the cost, which in this case, the clinic decided to invoice employers at $50 per note.

If you have issues with staff showing up, don’t offload your problem onto the rest of society and hurt honest employees. Rethink your workplace culture, invest in human resources and treat people like adults. There are costs to doing business, and high on that list should be treating your employees with dignity and respect for their well being.

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