Employers told to use honour system for sick leave as Alberta limits PCR testing

Employers told to use honour system for sick leave as Alberta limits PCR testing-Milenio Stadium-Canada
The goernment has been distributing at-home rapid tests through pharmacies across Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

With the province choosing to ration PCR tests, most Albertans will have to rely on at-home rapid tests for proof of COVID-19 infection. 

That change means employers, workers and insurance companies are now navigating how to handle work absences without official proof of COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced Monday that due to demand PCR testing was being limited to people at risk of severe outcomes or who live or work in high-risk settings.

As a result, she asked employers to not have sick leave tied to official documentation.

“I urge employers and organizations to not require proof of a positive COVID-19 result to support sick leave requests right now,” she said.

“Anyone who has COVID symptoms almost certainly has COVID and should just be staying home.”

Hinshaw said for those seeking more formal documentation, Alberta Health has released a printable form for self-reporting.

Terri Potter, executive director of the Alberta College of Family Physicians, said Tuesday there is not a standard protocol for issuing doctor’s notes after rapid-test results but clinics are still receiving plenty of calls.

“Doctor’s notes are something that family physicians have always tried to avoid,” she said Tuesday. “It is definitely a burden to a very strained system.”

Doctor’s offices are experiencing the same staffing shortages as many other businesses, she said, as employees isolate after testing positive, exhibiting symptoms or else being in close contact with a COVID-19 case.

Potter said various groups, including Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Medical Association, are working to adjust to the challenges posed by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

In the meantime, Albertans are encouraged to document positive rapid tests however they can and isolate even if only exhibiting symptoms.

‘Honour system’

Labour lawyer Dan Bokenfohr said taking photos and filling out the government form is about the best one can do, considering the current situation.

“That might provide a little bit of a little tiny bit of rigour to the process from both the employee and the employer’s perspective,” he said.

Bokenfohr said for many employers this is nothing new, having shifted to an “honour system” throughout the pandemic.

He said circumstances will vary from business to business, with some employees able to work from home while others cannot.

“Unfortunately, COVID has never really delivered an impact that’s been even or fair.”

Recovery benefit and health insurance

For those unable to work for 50 per cent of a scheduled work week because they are isolating, the federal government has extended the COVID Recovery Sickness Benefit until late May.

Application for the benefit is attestation-based and does not require documentation, although the Canada Revenue Agency may choose to review cases at a later date.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association said the health insurance industry’s standard COVID-19 medical form does not require a note or diagnosis from a doctor.

PCR tests are accepted but if a person is unable to get one, insurers will decide on a short-term disability claim based on symptoms in the medical form.

Some insurers have been accepting rapid test results but that people should confirm an insurer’s preference before making a claim, the spokesperson said.


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