OHS Canada Magazine

Alberta provides paid job-protected leave in self-isolation tied to coronavirus

Doctors notes will not be required: Kenney


Alberta has now confirmed 29 cases of coronavirus in the province. (dottedyeti/Adobe Stock)

By Dean Bennett

EDMONTON — Alberta is changing labour laws to provide 14 days of paid leave for workers who self-isolate due to the novel coronavirus or who are caring for someone with COVID-19, the disease linked to it.

Premier Jason Kenney says employees will not need doctor notes, nor will they have had to work for 90 days previously to qualify.

“Our priority is public safety and health, and we will make sure that no one has to choose between work and doing what is necessary to protect public health,” Kenney said Friday.

“We don’t want Albertans impacted by COVID-19 to feel that they must go to work to sustain their income so they can pay their bills and take care of their families. This obviously would raise the risk of spreading the virus to co-workers and clients.”

He said officials are still working out details, but added: “I want to assure employers that we will ensure these actions will not be a further burden to your business.”

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Kenney said he is also urging the federal government to further expand employment insurance benefits during the pandemic.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Federation of Labour called on the province to adopt paid leave around the novel coronavirus, saying that too many people live paycheque to paycheque and may not self-isolate as necessary in order to provide for themselves and their families.

Six new cases in Alberta

Also Friday, Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced six new cases of the virus, bringing the total number in the province to 29.

Hinshaw said all are travel-related and that the new patients are self-isolating at home and are expected to make a full recovery.

Publicly funded schools will remain open, along with daycares and post-secondary institutions.

“I know many parents and teachers are worried about the risk of COVID in schools,” said Hinshaw.

“(But) school closures are not universally agreed on as an effective intervention to prevent spread.”

She also said school closures would need to go on for months, not weeks, to be effective. In the meantime, students would still be at risk of spreading the virus in other venues.

Hinshaw repeated an earlier direction for Albertans to cancel mass gatherings of more than 250 people, including sports events.

The National Hockey League has already suspended its season, cancelling games for the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

Any event with more than 50 people but fewer than 250 should also be cancelled if it involves high-risk groups, like seniors.

International travel not recommended

Travel outside Canada is not recommended.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that billing rules are also being altered so doctors can get paid $20 per call when giving COVID-19 advice over the phone.

He said Health Link 811, the health information phone line, is getting more than 6,300 calls daily. The province is working on reducing call wait times with more staff.

Shandro addressed concerns there could be nurse layoffs and other staff reductions after April 1, when the new budget year begins, as part of long-term planned changes to health spending.

“This (crisis) has definitely changed everything,” said Shandro, who said he expects staffing increases to deal with the outbreak.

“There are not going to be any layoffs of (Alberta Health Services) employees during the COVID-19 response,” he said.