Canada should adopt a mandatory sick leave policy to help Canadians stay employed in case of illness, argues a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
About 170 countries have some type of guaranteed paid "social safety net" for employees; although Canada has a generous 6-week paid leave for employees to care for family members with a life-threatening illness, the country lacks an equitable short-term sick leave policy.
Public health agencies recommend that people with influenza stay home and that food service workers with gastrointestinal and other contagious illnesses avoid handling food. These guidelines also apply to people caring for seniors at home or in long-term care facilities. However, to comply with these health guidelines, many employees have to take unpaid leave or risk losing their jobs.
"Employees who have access to paid sick leave are more likely to stay home when advised to do so by a physician; employees with no sick leave are more likely to go to work and expose others to infection," write Dr. Jody Heymann, Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, and Mark Daku, McGill University, Montréal.
As well, income support for long-term illness and job protection vary by province. Each province should have basic legislation that protects jobs for sick employees for at least 10 days and pays employees for sick days during short-term illnesses. There also needs to be a safety net to protect the jobs of employees who are sick with longer illnesses.
"At the provincial and territorial levels, which govern labour law and employer behaviour, much more must to be done to protect employees. The single most important step would be to guarantee that people do not lose their jobs when they get sick," the authors write.
"Regardless of where they live, Canadians should not have to choose between keeping a job and caring for their health and the health of their communities," conclude the authors.