Nova Scotia

N.S. government to revisit policy on sick notes for public service workers

NDP Leader Gary Burrill raised the issue of sick notes on Wednesday at Province House in the context of growing concern about COVID-19. There have been no confirmed cases of the illness in Nova Scotia to date.

NDP wants change to labour standards code to prevent all employers from requiring notes

Premier Stephen McNeil says he's asking the Public Service Commission to temporarily suspend its sick note policy. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he's willing to revisit the policy that requires members of the public service to get sick notes when they are ill.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill raised the issue on Wednesday at Province House in the context of growing concern about COVID-19. There have been no confirmed cases of the illness in Nova Scotia to date.

But Burrill, whose party introduced legislation in September 2018 that would do away with any employer being able to require sick notes from a doctor, asked the premier during question period if he thought it would be worth examining the issue during the current climate. McNeil agreed.

The premier later told reporters that his government has looked at the issue in the past for its own employees. Given what's happening with COVID-19, McNeil said he's going to ask the Public Service Commission to temporarily suspend its own sick note policy, before having a broader conversation about sick notes.

"At some point we have to trust our employees," he said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill wants a change to the labour standards code so no employer can require their employees to get a sick note from a doctor. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

The issue of sick notes was raised by Doctors Nova Scotia officials during the most recent round of contract negotiations, said McNeil. Doctors have long called for an end to the practice.

"It's an unnecessary plugging up of our health-care system for employers to be able to require doctors' sick notes," said Burrill.

The NDP bill would see an amendment to the labour standards code, so the change would apply to all workers. Burrill said he's hoping the premier will consider taking that further step.

"It's imminently sensible. It makes particularly no sense in a time when we're very worried about the arrival of a deeply contagious virus to be sending people to wait in walk-in clinics and doctors' waiting rooms on unnecessary trips that they're only there for because their employer has required them to get a piece of paper."

The proposed legislation by the NDP would also allow anyone, regardless of where they work, to accrue half a day of paid sick leave for every month of work, to a maximum of six days a year.

If public health officials want people to stay home when they're sick, to avoid spreading illness, a system must be in place to make it feasible, said Burrill.

"We want people, when they're sick, to be able to afford to be at home."

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