Ontarians now have paid sick days — the challenge is making sure they take them

Advocacy groups say it's key that workers and employers are educated about their new rights.

Local advocacy groups prepping campaigns to make sure employees know their rights

Dr. Andrew Pinto told CBC Toronto the "big challenge" of the new sick day rules is making sure workers are aware of their new rights and feel comfortable using them. (CBC)

Following the introduction of two guaranteed paid sick days for Ontario workers starting Jan. 1, 2018, advocacy groups are gearing up campaigns to make sure workers know their new rights and feel comfortable using them.

Dr. Andrew Pinto, a family physician and the chair of the Decent Work and Health Network, says that after years of fighting for paid sick days, his group is now planning to create posters for clinics and doctors waiting rooms that inform patients of their right to two paid emergency leave days a year.

"I'm most concerned about vulnerable workers who maybe don't speak English," he told CBC Toronto. "What we're starting with is educating healthcare workers about how to talk to patients about their rights."

The two paid days came as part of a set of sweeping changes to the Employment Standards Act. Also included was a stipulation that employers are no longer allowed to demand a doctor's note from their employees following an absence from work.

"For a long time doctors have been saying, we don't want people coming in just for a doctor's note," he said during an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "This ends up taking up spots for other patients, it ends up costing patients because they have to take off time from work and they often have to pay for the sick note."

Pinto says his group wants to make a form letter for doctors to use when patients request a note for their employer which "tells the employer about the new rules."

The Workers' Action Centre is also planning an awareness campaign around last week's workplace changes. 

"We were pushing for seven paid sick days," said co-ordinator Deena Ladd during an interview with Metro Morning last week. "We now have two, and that's an excellent start. We think there should be a lot more." 

Plan to train doctors, community leaders

The plan, said Ladd, is to train a range of community leaders, healthcare workers, doctors and faith leaders on the changes "to ensure that they know what these new rights are and they go out in their communities and make sure everyone knows how to access [them.]"

She appeared for the interview with Abdul Barre, who currently works as a valet for just over minimum wage and who celebrated the new sick days as a "big step forward."

"Before, people did not have paid sick days, they had to go to work even though they were sick, and they used to spread their disease to their co-workers," he said.

Still, Pinto acknowledges that for vulnerable workers, the politics of taking a sick day — even if they are technically allowed to — are complex.

"We're in a climate right now of precarious work," he said. "We're in a culture where work looms so large, the need to stop and stay home is often put aside… but we know that people need time to recover."

Ministry of Labour plans awareness campaign

The government is also planning an awareness campaign, which will include television and social media ads and information sharing with "business and employee stakeholder partners."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour says they will also host a Facebook Live webinar on personal emergency leave on Jan. 29. 

They encourage anyone whose employer is not recognizing their right to two paid leave days to file a claim so the ministry can investigate.