Thanks to the H1N1 virus, society is finally coming to understand how critical it is to prevent the spread of viral infections.
It's unfortunate that it took a real global threat to finally bring home the message. But the message should now be clear: if you are sick, stay home for the protection of those around you in the workplace and at school.
For generations, children have been sent to school with fevers, running noses, sneezing and coughing. These are the symptoms of a very sick child. Why aren't they kept at home? Put them in a crowded classroom environment and the potential to spread that virus to other children is immense.
From there, some of those classmates bring the virus home and pass it on to their parents and siblings. In turn, parents report to their workplace displaying the same symptoms and pose the same potential to spread the virus to co-workers. And the cycle continues.
Some employees are afraid to call in sick for fear of lost wages -- or worse, their employers believe it's not true.
But finally, with this recent virus scare, we have realized that a sick child in a classroom, or a sick person in the workplace, poses a serious hazard to others. It's amazing this has taken so long to sink in.
Adults missing work due to illness, for example, have been penalized by reduced wages, or no wages at all -- penalized by a public health problem in great part created by those refusing to stay home and nurse their illness.
According to Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, Albertans need better protection under the Employment Standards Code.
"The employment standards codes in six other Canadian jurisdictions give workers the protections they need," McGowan said. "All of those codes say that workers cannot be disciplined, demoted or dismissed for taking time off work because of short-term illness. The Alberta code, on the other hand, doesn't say anything at all about sick leave. As a result, workers whose employers don't independently provide paid or unpaid sick leave -- and we think that's a majority of workers in Alberta -- face the prospect of being punished for doing the right thing."
McGowan has asked that the provincial code be changed quickly.
Certainly the problem also requires some measure of understanding among employers, particularly for those employees with children. If a child is too sick to go to school and child care is not available, what are the options for parents? Send the child to school anyway or stay home to care for your child, regardless of the consequences. Often parents in such circumstances are penalized by lost wages or worse.
It is time we got over the archaic mindset that praised employees who reported for duties while ill. They were applauded by the bosses as being "real troopers" because, apparently, showing up for work under such dire physical circumstances was a reflection on their devotion to the job.
Little, if any, regard was afforded to co-workers expected to perform their duties beside an ill co-worker. Then, if a concerned worker refused to work under such unhealthy conditions and walked out, his pay was in jeopardy.
But now the message is clear, thanks in part to the medical community that has emphasized a sick child does not belong in the classroom and a sick worker does not belong on the job.
In Ontario, doctors have urged employers to dump the mandatory doctor's note if someone calls in sick. Obtaining such a note is counter-productive, forcing sick people to venture out when they should be in bed, not bringing the virus into public places.
Schools and workplaces can expect higher-than-normal absenteeism this year. But by staying home, those who are ill are preventing a far more serious outbreak.
Winnipeg Free Press, Wed Nov 4 2009
That's not to say they've been untouched by H1N1, with Shaw Communications Inc. reporting one employee seriously sick with the influenza virus and on a respirator in Calgary.
"That's probably demographically about normal for a company our size to have some representation," Shaw president Peter Bissonnette said Wednesday.
With more than 10,000 employees across the country, Calgary-based Shaw has a pandemic plan in place for shift coverage and employees available to cover off should staff fall ill.
Sick employees are encouraged to stay home up to seven days, he said, noting they've had employees who've reported H1N1 symptoms and stayed home and recovered.
Shaw's sick leave benefits provide time off with pay.
"The days of being a hero and coming to work sick are not prescribed anymore," said Bissonnette, who got his H1N1 shot on Tuesday and is encouraging all Shaw employees to follow suit.
Not all employers in Alberta independently provide paid or unpaid sick leave, however, leaving thousands of workers, especially those in low-wage, service sector jobs, with little protection if they follow doctors advice and stay home if experiencing H1N1 symptoms, said the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Federation president Gil McGowan said the Alberta Employment Standard code doesn't say anything at all about sick leave, unlike employment standards codes in six other Canadian jurisdictions that give workers the protections they need.
"As a result, many workers don't have the confidence that they need to do the right thing and take themselves out of circulation if they are experiencing H1N1 symptoms," said McGowan, himself calling from home as he started feeling unwell during the day.
If the Alberta government is serious about slowing the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, it should amend the provincial code to include protections for such workers, he said.
Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau said he's willing to talk to the federation about its concerns, but he doesn't plan to alter the labour code.
"The majority of the contracts out there include sick-leave provisions," he said.
For workers who don't have such contracts, Goudreau encouraged them and their employers to talk about H1N1 plans.
Agrium Inc. hasn't as of yet seen a noticeable increase in absenteeism among its 400 employees at its Calgary head office, said company spokesman Richard Downey.
Agrium employees are strongly encouraged to stay home when sick and managers are encouraging employees to get flu shots, he said.
"We have spent a considerable amount of effort to ensure employees can work from home for the corporate head office, and contingency plans are in place at our wholesale facilities," he wrote in an e-mail.
Agrium, North America's third-largest fertilizer maker, has a paid sick leave policy for employees at its Calgary corporate office and sick leave policy for its entire operation, but the specifics of those vary depending on the location of the operations.
Agrium has 10,000 employees in total, including its retail operations in the United States.
It's all quiet so far on the energy front, too. EnCana Corp. hasn't experienced any unusual bouts of absenteeism due to flu, said spokeswoman Carol Howes.
Likewise, Talisman Energy hasn't experienced an epidemic of flu cases but is taking the H1N1 threat seriously, said spokeswoman Phoebe Buckland.
"We have a program and it's based around education and prevention," she said.
Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser said the company hasn't noticed any unusual absences or indications of flu among employees.
Nonetheless, the company continues to monitor the situation and promote awareness among staff, he said.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. hasn't experienced a spike in employee absenteeism, either.
Airline spokesman Richard Bartrem said WestJet has more front-line people than it needs at any one time, and so can draw on its employee base to cover off should a percentage of staffers be off sick.
Office staff, meanwhile, have the capability to work from home.
"We're asking our employees to exercise common sense, that if you believe you have the symptoms and to be contagious to stay at home, and in turn we're able to do that because they are still able to work from home," Bartrem said.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Oct 29 2009
Byline: Gina Teel
Concerns are being raised about why front-line workers like police and EMS have not been given the H1N1 vaccine yet.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan tells 660News the government should make it easier for its employees to get the vaccination.
He says, "These are people who are on the front lines, providing services that we can't do without. We feel very strongly that they should be allowed be allowed to move up to the front of the line to receive their shot, so there isn't a disruption in necessary services."
McGowan also believes the province needs to change the Employment Standards Code so legislation is in place guaranteeing workers won't be fired if they stay home because they're experiencing flu symptoms.
660News, Thurs Oct 29 2009
The Alberta Federation of Labour called on the provincial government Wednesday to amend the labour code to protect workers who take days off with the H1N1 virus.
"We don't think people who follow the advice of medical professionals should be penalized at their work," AFL president Gil McGowan said.
Alberta's labour code currently doesn't mention sick days and McGowan said it leaves many employees vulnerable if they take Alberta Health Services' advice to stay home when they or their children are feeling ill.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau said he is happy to meet with the AFL and others to hear their concerns, but he said most workers have already have sick days built into their contracts.
Those that don't should talk to their employers about the possibility of taking time off if they get the flu.
"People should not wait until they're ill to talk to each other," Goudreau said.
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Oct 29 2009
Byline: Archie McLean
If the Alberta government is serious about slowing the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, it should amend the provincial Employment Standards Code to include protections for workers who follow the advice of public health authorities and stay home from work when they're experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Without such protections, thousands of workers - especially those in low-wage, service sector jobs - will continue coming to work when they're sick, thereby jeopardizing their own health and undermining efforts to bring the H1N1 pandemic under control.
That was the message delivered today by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan to an audience of 500 registered nurses gathered in Edmonton to attend the United Nurses of Alberta's annual general meeting.
"The employment standards codes in six other Canadian jurisdictions give workers the protections they need," says McGowan.
"All of those codes say that workers cannot be disciplined, demoted or dismissed for taking time off work because of short-term illness. The Alberta code, on the other hand, doesn't say anything at all about sick leave. As a result, workers whose employers don't independently provide paid or unpaid sick leave - and we think that's a majority or workers in Alberta - face the prospect of being punished for doing the right thing."
Statistics on the number of employees with access to paid or unpaid sick leave are spotty. But studies from Statistics Canada and other sources suggest that only about 57 per cent of working Canadians have employers whose policies allow them to take time off when they're sick. Access to these benefits is much higher in unionized workplaces (77 per cent) compared to non-union workplaces (45 per cent).
"Given the fact that the available figures are national and that Alberta has a lower rate of union coverage than other provinces, we're pretty confident that the percentage of workers in Alberta with formal access to sick leave through their employers in only at or below fifty per cent," said McGowan. "For everyone else, the only protections they could have would be found in the provincial Employment Standards Code - but those protections just aren't there."
McGowan says that problems exist even in workplaces that do have formal sick leave policies because many employers actively discourage workers from taking sick days even if they're entitled to them.
McGowan has asked for an emergency meeting with Employment Minister Hector Goudreau. At the meeting, he will present him with draft amendments to the Code that could be introduced and adopted by the Legislature quickly.
"The good news is that the Legislature has just resumed sitting," says McGowan. "If there's the political will among the government and opposition parties, they could have new emergency legislation passed by this time next week. They could also use debate on new legislation as a platform to send a clear message to employers about the need to make it easier, not harder, for sick workers to follow the advice of public health authorities."
For more information call: Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 218-9888
The Alberta Federation of Labour wants an emergency meeting with Employment Minister Hector Goudreau to push for changes in legislation to protect workers who follow medical advice and stay home when they have the flu.
AFL President Gil McGowan says a majority of workers in Alberta face the prospect of being punished for doing the right thing. McGowan says six provinces have labour standards codes that say workers can not be disciplined, demoted or dismissed for taking time off because of short term illness.
Even when companies have sick leave policies, he says too many workers are pressured into showing up when they're sick.
He's also hoping the AFL request can get some debate time in the legislature that will send a clear message to employers to make it easier, not harder, for sick workers to follow the advice of public health authorities.
iNews880.com, Wed Oct 28 2009
EDMONTON - Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert said today hospital emergency wards and medical clinics are experiencing an increase in patients and inquires connected to H1N1 concerns.
The influx is causing some strain, which the province and health board are looking to address.
"Over the couple of days I hope that we will be in a position to implement some strategy that will help alleviate that," Liepert said at the legislature.
As the province's H1N1 immunization campaign entered its third day, dozens of smaller communities in Alberta still don't have access to the vaccine.
Tory MLA Genia Leskiw, who represents a northern Alberta riding, noted residents in Cold Lake and Bonnyville are wondering when they'll get the vaccine.
Liepert said Alberta Health Services, the province's medical board, is working on securing locations for an additional 10 vaccination clinics. A new one opened today in Calgary at the Olympic Oval to serve people who have trouble standing in lineups, including pregnant women, young children and seniors.
The health minister said mobile clinics could also be dispatched to "hot spots" around the province. However, the province's plan for many smaller centres located far from Calgary or Edmonton is to distribute the vaccine through family doctors and nearly 400 pharmacists certified to give the shot.
Liepert said he hopes doctors and pharmacists will begin receiving vaccine supplies next week.
"This is a massive undertaking and there are probably going to be situations where certain areas may not get it as quickly as other areas, but we have to recognize that there are a number of factors involved, including ensuring that they have adequate, trained people to administer the vaccine," Liepert said.
One of the factors is supply. The province expects to get its next batch of vaccines on Thursday.
"There's been a high demand and the manufacturing facility can only manufacture so much and so there is a balance here of supply and demand," the health minister said.
"Our goal should be that by early next week the vaccine should be available throughout the province within reasonable proximity."
The onset of the second wave of H1N1 flu has prompted the Alberta Federation of Labour to call for changes to the province's Employment Standards Code, arguing better protection is needed for workers who follow medical advice and stay home when they're experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The union noted that thousands of workers, particularly those in low-wage, service sector jobs, are vulnerable because they may not have contracts detailing sick-leave rules.
"The employment standards codes in six other Canadian jurisdictions give workers the protections they need," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said in a statement.
"All of those codes say that workers cannot be disciplined, demoted or dismissed for taking time off work because of short-term illness. The Alberta code, on the other hand, doesn't say anything at all about sick leave."
Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau said today he's willing to talk to the Alberta Federation of Labour about its concerns, but he doesn't plan to alter the labour code.
"The majority of the contracts out there include sick-leave provisions," he said.
For workers who don't have such contracts, Goudreau encouraged them and their employers to talk about H1N1 plans.
"People should not wait until they're ill to talk to each other," he said.
He also cautioned workers with flu-like symptoms against going to work.
"People need to take care of themselves and they need to make sure they are not affecting their co-workers," he said. "Things could get much worse under those particular scenarios."
Calgary Herald, Wed Oct 28 2009
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio
Alberta needs legal protection for workers who don't have sick leave benefits but are being urged to stay home if they're not feeling well, particularly in flu season.
Health professionals and employers are asking staff to refrain from showing up at work if they feel sick to prevent the H1N1 virus from spreading, but many people can't afford to.
Shaina Kathrens, who works for an hourly wage at a retail store in a Calgary mall, said if she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid.
"I was thinking about calling in sick today and I'm like, no I can't, if I miss my budget by like a little bit, I'll be messed. It's really bad."
'We lose our pay, and everybody needs to be able to pay their rent and their bills. So they go to work anyway even if they're not supposed to.'
- Erin Hines, retail managerThe store Kathrens works for has issued a memo saying that employees who are sick shouldn't come in. But store manager Erin Hines said the company policy will be hard to follow.
"We lose our pay, and everybody needs to be able to pay their rent and their bills," Hines said. "So they go to work anyway, even if they're not supposed to."
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said more than half the workers in Canada don't receive any kind of sick leave benefits. He predicts this will force many ill employees to show up at work during the H1N1 and seasonal flu season.
"That could have very serious implications both for the workers, for the employers and for the broader society," McGowan said.
Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau said Wednesday that he's willing to meet with McGowan to discuss potential changes to provincial legislation.
"We'll chit-chat about that," Goudreau told CBC News. "You know there's no doubt that employees are concerned about their job.
"There are some individuals that have no provision. What I'm telling people is to not wait till something happens, just go and talk to each other. Make sure that they've got a plan and know how their employers are going to treat them if everybody gets sick, especially on a longer-term basis."
Goudreau said his department has not received overwhelming complaints about the issue.
Avoiding future sick days
Some employers are being flexible in allowing staff time to wait at vaccination clinics for hours - so they can avoid getting sick in the first place.
"If they call us and say we've been here for hours and hours, then we'll look at our schedule, and say you know, 'stay in line, do it right,'" said Joseph Wiewer, chef and co-owner of Wildwood Grill in Calgary. "So we have to be flexible with that."
Others have chosen to take unpaid time to ensure they stay healthy.
"I've taken the whole day off work and my kids have taken the whole day off school just to come and get this done," Frank Ballerini said as he waited for his H1N1 shot on Tuesday in Calgary. "Regardless, I don't paid get for this day so there's a cost to us."
CBC News, Wed Oct 28 2009