Changes to the province’s labour laws were passed in the legislature on Wednesday, providing unpaid sick leave for workers required to self-isolate or quarantine due to the current pandemic.
The legislation is in line with changes made to labour legislation in other provinces, although P.E.I. is later than most in enacting the changes.
The legislation will provide for unpaid sick leave for workers required to be absent from work due to an emergency.
The term emergency can mean either a state of emergency, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, and could apply to a requirement to self-isolate due to recent travel or due to illness. An employer could also direct an employee to self-isolate if they are concerned they may pass on an illness to others in the workplace.
Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay said the legislation was needed to ensure fairness for workers.
“Without additional leave protections, we would be relying on employers to be compassionate and understanding not to terminate employees during this time," MacKay said.
Employees who take the emergency leave would be permitted to return to their jobs at the same rate of pay. The leave could also be used to care for a family member if an employee is the only one who can provide the care.
Workers would not be required to present a doctor’s note before taking the emergency leave. The changes are retroactive to March 16, the start of the pandemic.
Currently, the province’s Employment Standards Act provides for three days of unpaid sick leave but does not require that employees receive paid sick days unless they have been employed for over five years.
Carl Pursey, president of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour, said he would like to see paid leave introduced for employees required to be absent from their jobs due to COVID-19 or in the event of a second wave of the virus.
He said many workers, including essential workers earning close to minimum wage, will not be able to afford to take unpaid sick leave.
"Workers that don't have sick days can't afford to take sick days. So, they're going to work sick and other workers could become sick as well," Pursey said.
"If they're sick, let them stay home and pay them.”
The passage of the legislation in P.E.I. comes after the federal government announced it would fund up to 10 days of paid sick leave for workers. But Premier Dennis King said negotiations over this funding are ongoing.
"The $14-billion package that the prime minister announced last week – there's a lot of questions around that. And involved in that is what the sick leave looks like, who will be the benefactors, etc.,” King said on Thursday.
"As of right now, there are many more questions than answers."
On Wednesday, MacKay was asked by Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker whether paid sick leave may be introduced by the province in the event of a second wave of COVID-19.
MacKay left open the possibility this may happen.
“If we get a second round of this and there was not federal support, we would have to look at that,” MacKay said.