Employer-paid sick leave is making headlines again in Canada and in New Brunswick. The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour recently launched a public consultation on paid sick leave in New Brunswick. Currently, under the Employment Standards Act, workers with the same employer for 90 days get five unpaid days of leave per year. The New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice recommends adding 10 job-protected and employer-paid sick days to the Act, no matter the reason behind the leave — whether it is a personal illness, illness of a family member, or a non-workplace injury.
Three provinces currently offer permanent paid sick days: Prince Edward Island (one day), Québec (two days) and British Columbia (five days). On PEI, two bills were recently tabled to provide up to five paid sick days. Many states, cities, counties and countries offer paid sick days, such as New York City, Australia, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand. Canada remains one of only three advanced countries without national mandatory paid leave.
Paid sick days benefit workers, employers and are recognized by international conventions, including the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Paid sick days improve workplaces for historically disadvantaged populations: women, racialized and Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and older workers.
Moreover, it is a disability justice issue especially for people with disabilities, chronic health issues and immunocompromised conditions. Providing accessible workplaces is a human right. Workplace transmission is a significant contributor to the spread of illnesses. Paid sick leave keeps workplaces safe, protects the health and well-being of workers, and mitigates risks for customers and businesses.
There are also financial returns to making paid sick days mandatory. Employees who access paid sick leave are more likely to return to work and work longer in jobs. For businesses, this means higher productivity, lower turnover rates, recruitment and training costs. This would be especially beneficial for small businesses. Workers able to take paid time off to recover from an illness are less likely to perform work while tired or with limited capacity, reducing workplace injuries. The benefits outweigh the cost of paid sick days as businesses can avoid shutting down due to sick employees.
Allowing individuals time to care for themselves makes for a speedy recovery and reduces the likelihood of relying on government-provided caregiving or healthcare. Thus, reducing costs and the burden on our health care system. For instance, burnouts can be prevented as employees take time off when caring for their mental health. Emergency room visits reduce when workers, especially those with children, have access to paid sick days. Being able to take paid sick leave without being fired or feeling pressured to quit also lowers reliance on government support during illness.
Paid sick days help prevent and alleviate poverty. Workers struggling to make ends meet with the soaring cost of living cannot afford to stay home without pay, even if they are sick. Paid sick days allow them to take time off without worrying about paying for basic necessities and falling behind on expenses. Preventing and alleviating poverty has positive effects for the overall economy and society in terms of buying power, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, and lower poverty-related expenses.
For the economy, for businesses, for workers and for our province: it is time for New Brunswick to offer paid sick days!
To participate in the consultation process, please visit Citizen Engagement and Public Consultation New Brunswick website.
For more information, visit the NB Common Front paid sick days campaign.
Janelle LeBlanc is the Provincial Coordinator of the Common Front for Social Justice.