Small business owners call on Ontario to legislate paid sick leave

Four business owners are argueing that paid sick leave can be better for business


Four business owners from Ontario gathered for an online news conference on Wednesday to explain why paid sick leave is good for business.

The four businesses are members of the Better Way Alliance, an organization that’s urging the government to pass Bill 239, the Stay Home If You Are Sick Act.

The bill, which is proposed by London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler, has passed first reading. It would guarantee 10 personal emergency leave days a year, seven of which would be paid. Workers would also be entitled to 14 additional days of sick leave during declared emergencies and infectious disease emergencies.

Despite widespread support for paid sick leave from labour unions and public health experts as essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19 virus, the Ford government has refused to the policy.

Sick leave a “non-negotiable” extra cost

All four business owners have managed to include paid sick days in their business models.

During the news conference, the group argued that paid sick leave needs to be provincially mandated to ensure all businesses, especially “giants” like Amazon or Loblaws, are required to comply.

“Something as important as paid sick days can’t simply be left up to the goodwill of conscientious employers,” Jessica Carpinone, co-owner of Ottawa’s Bread By Us bakery, said. “It’s time to force these corporations to take some responsibility for their workers well being.”

Sam Conover, a business owner of Broad Lingerie in Toronto, who also spoke at the conference, says she is tired of small businesses being used as a scapegoat as to why paid sick leave can’t be mandated provincially.

Conover offered four paid sick days to her employees from the moment she opened her business, has increased that to five days along with 14 additional days for infectious disease emergencies.

“This, for me, was non-negotiable,” she says.

The alliance spoke about why paid sick leave is smart for business.

“If one of my staff members ends up feeling unwell, potentially has something that’s transmissible, I really don’t want them to bring it to work,” said Helmi Ansari, co-founder and CEO of GROSCHE International Inc. in Cambridge. “That would be disastrous for my business.”

Ansari sees sick leave as a form of “business insurance.” Not only is our staff more engaged and more committed, it gives better business results. At the end of the day, they know you have their back,” he says.

“Horrible” for business during COVID-19

When it comes to COVID-19, Ansari points to the cycle of multiple shutdowns, which he describes as “horrible” for business.

He says passing Bill 239 would help end that cycle and “put an end to workplace transmission.”

A study by the Institute for Work and Health released in January found that there have been 7,955 workplace outbreaks in Ontario since the start of the pandemic, compared to 2,575 in education settings and 2,776 in congregate living settings. Health-care settings accounted for 23,706 outbreaks.

Ansari says that ultimately, offering paid sick leave adds about two to three per cent to his bottom line – and that’s on the “rare” occasion that his staff takes all of their sick leave.

Conover adds that the narrative that sick days is about employers versus employees needs to change.

“In order to change the narrative, the first thing you have to do is make [sick leave] mandated, ” she says. “Because if it’s a matter of choosing whether to offer paid sick days, a lot of people [businesses] are not going to make that choice, unfortunately.”

@juliajmastro

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