EDMONTON — The Alberta Federation of Labour is calling on the provincial government to do away with the longstanding practice of employers asking employees for a doctor’s note to verify absences.
Officials with the organization, representing a number of unions and employee organizations, call the process a waste of time.
AFL president Gil McGowan says in non-unionized workplaces, many employers are using sick notes as a disincentive for workers to do what they should be doing, which is staying home and getting better.
McGowan adds that the cost of a doctor’s note — which some employees have to pay for themselves — could also dissuade some employees from taking necessary time away from the workplace.
Dr. Rohan Bissoondath of Preventous Health says sick note requests have become a daily occurrence at his clinic.
He says it only takes a few minutes for the medical professionals, but for sick patients it’s often challenging to find time to come in.
“When it comes to coughs, colds, common things that people don’t need to be in front of the doctor for, the best thing for them is that they’re home, they’re out of harm’s way, and they’re not making anybody else sick.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business argues that sick notes, even for short-term illness, are valuable for employers.
“Small businesses need to be able to verify that their employees are getting the treatment that they need if they’re sick,” says Amber Ruddy, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs.
Ruddy agrees that the provincial government should review its policies on sick days but for an entirely different reason.
“When you look at the public sector versus the private sector, people in the public sector seem to get sick more often, in fact, five days more per year than someone in the private sector,” Ruddy says.
“In the public sector, people treat it more like an entitlement where they’ve negotiated sick days, they can bank them, they can retire earlier, and that’s simply unfair.”
Statistics Canada shows Albertans took an average of 5.5 sick days in 2015, the lowest provincial percentage in the country. Quebec was highest, with an average of 9.8 sick days.