November means the start of both the flu season – a time when health care providers may advise many of us to stay home when sick – and of a month of action in support of paid sick days for all workers.
Millions of workers across Ontario lack access to paid sick days and even job protection for unpaid emergency leave days. For many, no matter the situation, taking a sick day is simply not an option.
This gap in access to what amounts to an important protection – one that has real-life impacts on health outcomes – disproportionately affects people in low-wage jobs and precarious work, a sure signal about the unfairness of employment standards. As health workers and advocates, we recognize how such practices negatively impact the lives of so many and are joining forces to ensure that we are heard loud and clear on the urgent need for change.
The Ontario government is currently reviewing its labour and employment laws, including the Employment Standards Act – the only workplace protection that non-unionized workers have. If we are going to get paid sick days in Ontario, now is the time.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is proud to have joined the Fight for $15 & Fairness in calling on the government to guarantee paid sick days and job-protected leave to all workers, and to prohibit requirements for medical notes.
Workers without paid sick days are forced to choose between their health and a paycheque, or maybe even losing their only source of income. If someone is sick or needs urgent care – but risks loss of wages needed to pay their bills, make rent, or care for their children – the choice is almost impossible.
It can mean having to make short-term sacrifices to stay afloat, like not seeking treatment right away, skipping an appointment or follow-up, or opting for DIY solutions with possible negative long-term consequences for them and their families. Being denied access to paid sick days limits the health options people have, including their sexual and reproductive health options.
In real terms, this can mean not being able to take a day off to access abortion services or having to delay making an appointment. This can increase the difficulty and personal costs of accessing this medical service as in some communities and provinces, abortion is only available up to a certain point in the gestational period.
It may mean missing important specialist appointments when managing chronic illnesses like HIV or Hepatitis C, or being unable to seek treatment for common STIs like Chlamydia that, if left untreated, can have an impact on fertility.
It can mean not being able to seek prenatal care during pregnancy or facing difficulties at work as a result of pregnancy-related sickness. It can mean not following up with a pelvic floor specialist after birth to avoid the long-term impact of aprolapsed bladder.
The consequences of not being able to take a sick day are dire.
The issue also further marginalizes already marginalized groups. The industries least likely to offer paid sick days and job protection, such as retail, food service and personal care, are ones in which wages are lower, and women and people of colour are over-represented.
Workers living on smaller budgets may simply not be able afford to take time off.
On top of loss of income, confidentiality becomes an additional barrier when providing a medical note to your employer is made compulsory. There is still a lot of stigma around accessing reproductive or sexual health services. Now more than ever, confidentiality in accessing health services is important, and having to request time off and provide a medical note can be a huge barrier to someone who needs such care. People may, rightfully or not, anticipate negative repercussions and avoid the process altogether, risking their health in the end.
Lack of access to paid sick days is clearly linked to negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes, as well as the denial of sexual and reproductive rights. Without access to paid sick days, employees needing time to address their sexual or reproductive health may be left to decide between their health or their paycheque. Paid sick days and job protection helps to support people in caring for themselves and their families, ensuring that all people have the flexibility and privacy they need to navigate their health choices.
November 19 will be a day of advocacy across the province, with health workers participating in awareness raising activities in several cities, including Toronto, Cambridge, Peterborough, Sudbury and more. There will also be a social media action for the day.