November – Paid Sick Days for Employees Makes Dollars and Sense

Written by Comms Team, December 16, 2022

Those in the business community have heard all the sayings before: “You have to spend money to make money”, “It will be a good return on the investment”, “Time is money”, and so on.

It’s that last thought that I want to focus on today. As a physician and public health professional, you are likely wondering, “what does he know about running a small business?”  While I may not be an expert in small businesses, I do know a lot about preventing things that can impact time and money. And illness and disease have a significant impact on our time and money. So, when the threat of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections loom over our community, it’s just bad business.

Over the past six weeks, Peterborough Public Health’s Local COVID-19 Risk Index continues to fluctuate between “high” and “very high”. We are also now seeing increases in cases, outbreaks, and hospitalizations due to influenza in our region. I continue to worry about transmission and illness due to respiratory viruses. Respiratory infections like COVID-19 and influenza have varying symptoms for each person. For some they may present as mild symptoms but for many, they can confine us to bed for several days and at their worst, lead to severe illness. For those of us in the workforce, that means several days off work.

As we learn to live with these respiratory viruses, we know which strategies will work to contain it, and what we need to do to reduce transmission. The strategies we have learned for preventing the spread of COVID-19 are strategies that work for Influenza too. Wearing a mask when indoors, improving ventilation in indoor spaces, choosing to gather outdoors more often, and getting your vaccines. However, a strategy that is arguably the most important is also often forgotten. That is staying home when you feel unwell. Staying home when you are ill means breaking the chain of transmission and protecting those at work, school, or in the community from being exposed to a virus.

So why are respiratory infections bad for business? Sick employees who come into work lead to other sick employees. Some may feel they can work, others may need to take a few days off and some may need a week or two. When employees stay home when they are ill, they break the chain of transmission and no one else in the workplace gets sick. However, many may not have that choice or make that choice without access to paid sick days. A recent article by Dr. Chhinzer from the University of Guelph noted that workers without access to paid sick leave are 50% more likely to come to work when they are ill; potentially infecting others at the workplace. Employees who come to work sick are also more likely to be less productive and have a 28 percent higher chance of getting injured while at work – neither of which are good for businesses.

A recent Toronto Star investigation examined fatality reports submitted by workplaces to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. These reports confirm that through the height of the pandemic, front line workers – especially those in the manufacturing sector – bore the brunt of COVID-19 related mortality.

Cleary, paid sick day polices would have protected some of these workers.

Locally we know that prevention measures such as masking, contact tracing, isolation requirements, vaccinations, ventilation improvements, and efforts to reduce close contacts may have saved as many as 265 to 291 lives in our community, which is why we are imploring workplaces to consider adding paid sick days to the suite of tools to protect their workplaces.

Even though overall by stopping transmission, we think this will save you money we aren’t so naïve to expect businesses to be able to do this on their own though; the last three years have been incredibly difficult on small businesses and adding more costs now in this time of recovery could be debilitating.

To this end, the Peterborough Public Health Board of Health has advocated for the provision of adequate paid sick leave at a provincial level, providing comments on Bills 148, the Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs Act in 2017, and Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, in 2018.

While we continue to advocate provincially, this is something that employers can do now locally to protect the health of our workplaces and save themselves money.

Going back to the adage that ‘time is money’, the inverse is also true; lost-time and down-time cost money. Offering paid sick days to your employees is one way you can help protect your employees and the economy.

Dr. Thomas Piggott
Medical Officer of Health
Peterborough Public Health