Sick Note Ban: Open Season on Sick Days?

by Jon Pinkus

Thursday, June 15th, 2017 at 4:42 pm

New legislation in Ontario would make the sick note for workplace absences go the way of the dodo, payphones, and the neighbourhood milkman.

Legislation proposed to take effect in January 2018 would ban employers from requesting a doctor’s note from ill employees who use up to 10 sick days a year.

In a recent news conference at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Health Minister Eric Hoskins explained that the change would allow workers to remain home instead of mingling with the public.

“This becomes one less thing to worry about when you’re not feeling well,” said Hoskins.

Dr. Ruth Heisey, chief of family medicine at Women’s College Hospital, remarked that this legislation eliminates “those useless visits, especially in to the doctor just to get a sick note to verify what we all knew was going on. Most commonly, it’s a common cold or it’s a flu and there is no reason to go see your doctor. You can take care of yourself at home.”

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“[A sick note} becomes one less thing to worry about when you’re not feeling well,” The Health Minister said.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn pointed out that many employers have already done away with the sick note requirement. Proposed changes will force the remaining businesses to update their policy.

Will Employees Now Abuse Their Sick Days if Notes Are No Longer Required?

Are you an employer who is worried that this will lead to a spike in the number of sick days taken by your staff? Fear not, as it is unlikely that this shift in policy will lead to an abuse of the sick day process.

Some have expressed concern that with sick notes nixed as a necessity, more employees will opt to take 10 days off and claim that they were “sick”.

The reality is that if an employee genuinely feels stressed or anxious, they will most likely acquire a doctor’s note to legitimize their absence. If a worker informs their doctor that they are under the weather and can’t perform their work duties, they are more likely than not to get that handwritten confirmation. Given the recognition that mental illness now receives, doctors are quite reluctant to deny a patient’s request for a sick note.

And even when an employer believes that an employee’s reported medical situation may be contrived, they will rarely be able to do something about it. An employer cannot simply disregard a sick note because they disagree with it or think the employee is making it up.

If an employee’s absence extends beyond 10 sick days, an employer does have the right to a note and any medical information about an employee’s prognosis (not diagnosis). They also have a right to know how it will affect their ability to work and any accommodations that may be required.

Don’t be alarmed by these changes. You are not likely to see any noticeable difference in the behaviour of your employees

EMPLOYEES: This change means one less thing for you to worry about when your only goal should be to rest and recuperate.

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In The News
New Legislation Ensures Workers Can Take 10 Sick Days Without a Doctor’s Note
Ending sick note requirements best for healthcare system
Personal Emergency Leave for All Workers

What Will Change Under the New Legislation

  • Employees will be entitled to 10 personal emergency leave days each year. Two of those days must be paid
  • Employers will be banned from asking for a sick note if they use up to 10 of those days for personal illness
  • Personal emergency leave includes
    • Sick days
    • Days to stay at home caring for sick family members
    • Domestic or sexual violence
  • Sick note terms contained in collective agreements will be overwritten by this new rule.

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