Manitobans mixed on proposed law limiting employer requests for sick notes
Daniella Ponticelli, CTV Winnipeg
Published Tuesday, February 23, 2016 2:15PM CST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 24, 2016 8:41PM CST
There was an empty chair in place of an MLA in the legislature Wednesday.
Dave Gaudreau, a backbencher in the NDP government, called in sick after getting a stomach bug. He told CTV News he'll be back Thursday to introduce legislation that has stirred up some debate.
The MLA has proposed a new law that would forbid bosses from requesting sick notes until a worker has missed at least seven days in a calendar year.
Gaudreau said forcing workers to get a doctor's note wastes health care resources and often requires workers to pay a fee for the note.
Some medical groups have also criticized the use of sick notes, including the Ontario Medical Association, which says a worker who gets a doctor's note can spread germs to other patients.
But some business groups have argued that sick notes are needed to manage absenteeism and ensure workers are getting treated for their illness.
“There are definitely impacts to this. There might be benefits to the health care system, but it sure sounds like the employer will have to wear the brunt of it,” said Brad Lutz, president of Acuity HR Solutions on Wednesday.
Lutz, a 20-year human resources specialist, said the proposal has good intentions, but ultimately contains flaws for combating the realities of the workplace.
“It is a real issue in many workplaces, especially with summers being so short in Winnipeg. People definitely want as much time off as they can,” said Lutz. “If there’s a situation where they want time off; they’re going to call in sick.”
In Manitoba, there is currently no legislation on sick notes.
Lutz said many employers will require a sick note after many consecutive absences, or at the third consecutive absence. For problematic situations, an employer could also request medical confirmation more often; either way, it’s an issue that requires judgement based on the situation.
“The ‘Friday Flu’ is exactly the problem that many employers will have. You get into the middle of summertime and an employee decides to take Friday’s off and has the flu every Friday during the beautiful summer days,” he said.
“Unfortunately, with this sort of proposal, it would make it difficult for the employer to truly understand what’s going on.”
As for what a solution could be, Lutz points to suggestions he’s heard that employers pay for the doctor’s notes. He said, many already do.
“I wouldn’t suggest that’s necessarily the route that needs to go, but it would help employers perhaps exercise some good judgement when they do want that doctor’s note,” he said.
Lutz also noted the possible conflict this proposed legislation could have with the NDP’s current laws allowing three days of family leave.
Family leave can be unpaid, and employers have the right to ask workers for verification – whether a medical or family note – to explain the absence.
“That’s a three day provision…and now you can go seven days without needing a doctor’s note? That seems to be a little contradictory,” said Lutz.
Additionally, Lutz said the ripple effect of such legislation could impact workplace morale as coworkers pick up the slack and even take on more hours. This could further create overtime issues for employers.
Gaudreau hopes to have his proposed law debated in the legislature in the coming weeks, but admits there are no guarantees it will be discussed before the Apr. 19 provincial election.
With files from The Canadian Press