British Columbia

Doctors in B.C. once again urge employers against requiring sick notes

The association that represents 14,000 physicians, residents and medical students in British Columbia is once again asking employers to do away with any requirements for sick notes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Association has been campaigning since 2014 to prohibit the notes, says pandemic highlights their redundancy

The association representing medical doctors in B.C. says employers requiring sick notes from employees place an unnecessary burden on health care. (iStock)

The association that represents 14,000 physicians, residents and medical students in British Columbia is once again asking employers to do away with any requirements for sick notes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Sick notes place an unnecessary burden on the health-care system particularly now during the Omicron surge," said Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, president of Doctors of B.C. "If a patient is sick they need to stay at home to recover, not come into the doctor's office."

The demand comes as thousands more people in the province have contracted the more transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus, resulting in an increase in hospitalizations and people off sick from work.

Doctors of B.C. has been speaking out against mandatory sick notes from employers since 2014, saying it puts an unnecessary burden on the medical system. Reimbursement for the notes are not covered by B.C.'s medical services plan, meaning many patients must pay for them.

Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh is a family doctor and the president of Doctors of B.C. (Doctors of BC)

Researchers say that close to 20 per cent of British Columbians don't have primary care, such as a family physician. 

"They may have to end up going to an emergency room, or walk-in clinic and what this does is just puts more and more pressure on our health-care system and this isn't what we need right now," said said Andrew Longhurst, a PhD student and health policy researcher at Simon Fraser University.

Doctors of B.C. and those like Longhurst want a permanent solution to the issue of sick notes in the form of provincial laws.

"Sick notes need to be something of the past, they have no place in 2022 and it should be specifically prohibited in legislation in B.C. to prevent employers from requiring that," said Longhurst.

Organizations that represent employers have said in the past that medical notes are sometimes necessary to prevent the abuse of sick days by employees.

Both B.C. Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have spoken out against the requirement for notes from physicians to either be off work, or to return to a job, school, daycare or child care.

Doctors of B.C. did not specify a sector or industry that still requires sick notes, or provided any statistics about who in the workforce in B.C. is still expected to provide a note to their employer.

In January, new provincial legislation came into effect ensuring five days of paid sick leave for most workers in the province.

The new legislation says employers are entitled to reasonable proof that an employee is sick.

Currently, vaccinated individuals in B.C. are asked to isolate for five days if they feel ill and can return to their regular activities following the five days as long as their symptoms have improved.

On Friday, the province said that due to the rapid spread of Omicron, contact tracing is no longer an effective way of controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

Officials are asking British Columbians to self-monitor for symptoms, follow health orders and, above all, get vaccinated to help protect society's most vulnerable.

Doctors of B.C. has created a form letter for residents to give to employers who demand a sick note. It lays out why sick notes should not be required.

With files from Amélia MachHour

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