Are we allowed to get sick (in a non-COVID manner)?
John Smith isn’t feeling too well. He woke up this morning with a headache. He feels tired. His back hurts; he is aching all over. Maybe it’s his blood pressure. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t been to the gym in a year. A sore throat and a runny nose. His eyes are watering up. Maybe it’s the cherry blossoms. Didn’t they say in the news that we could get a heart attack when Daylight Savings Time kicks in? It’s Spring. That’s gotta be it.
Of the 13 symptoms for COVID-19 listed by WHO, Mr. Smith has 6 of them. Having one symptom alone is a big no-no, as we have seen from children with runny noses not being allowed to go to school. What to do? The Ontario government did tell us to stay home (in 22 languages). Maybe he should call it in. Mr. Smith speaks to his employer over the phone. Do you have COVID? You should get tested. Mr. Smith is not comfortable with the idea of standing in line with people who may have it; the hospital is the last place he wants to go to now. His employer pushes on. Is Mr. Smith required by law to show his employer the results of his COVID-19 test?
The curt reaction of Mr. Smith may be: I don’t have to show you anything. I have my rights. Under the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave regulation for the period of March 1, 2020 to July 3, 2021, it states that: “employers cannot require an employee to provide a certificate from a physician or nurse as evidence”. There you have it. The writing’s on the wall. In big bold font. But Mr. Smith failed to read further:
“An employer may require an employee to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances….. evidence may take many forms, such as a:
a copy of the information issued to the public by a public health official advising of quarantine or isolation (for example, a print out, screen shot or recording of the information)
a copy of an order to isolate that was issued to the employee under s. 22 or s. 35 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act”
Whether Mr. Smith likes it or not, he is going to have to inform his employer about the results of his COVID-19 test. This seems to undermine the original Employment Standards Act, 2000, which stated:
“the employer can ask only for the following information:
the duration or expected duration of the absence
the date the employee was seen by a health care professional
whether the patient was examined in person by the health care professional issuing the note
Employers cannot ask for information about the diagnosis or treatment of the employee’s medical condition.”
Let’s say Mr. Smith tests positive. His co-workers go on to test positive too. His workplace is forced to shut down to conform to public health regulations. The business loses money. A lot of money. And his employer does not forget that. After about a month, things settle down and everyone goes back to work. Mr. Smith is okay, for he was asymptomatic all along. But there is talk in the workplace and suspicions on who started the outbreak. They all lost one month of work. Unpaid. And there is no way they can challenge this because the Employment Standards Act, 2000, does not require the employer to provide paid leave. In fact, even health care professionals are not given paid leave, as brought to light by a public health nurse and emergency physician who recently penned an article entitled, “Denying paid sick days is driving the pandemic”. Mr. Smith is not alone and this should make him feel better, right,? He continues to show up for work every day, but things are not what they used to be between him, his co-workers and his employer. Resentment rises. Mr. Smith has to live with this stigma.
(Sandhu A, Seth M, Gurm HS. Daylight savings time and myocardial infarction
Open Heart 2014;1:e000019. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2013-000019)