We recognize that when people are ill, they need time off to get better, to seek medical attention if necessary, and to avoid getting their coworkers sick. That’s why we’ve had a paid sick leave policy since day one. In a pandemic, a paid sick leave policy is a crucial part of any employer’s plan to keep their people healthy and to stop the spread of Covid in their businesses and their communities. Even if the government doesn’t make it mandatory.
Covid-19 poses a huge threat to the health of our staff, and by extension, to the health of our business. A Covid outbreak at Escarpment would be devastating, jeopardizing the health of our staff and their families, and potentially forcing us to shut down for an extended period. If someone is feeling unwell it’s not fair to make them choose between their income and the health of the people they work with, and we want everything we can to make the right choice an easy one. We’re happy to pay someone for a few days or a few weeks so they can get tested, recover completely, and make sure that it’s safe for them to return to work.
When we were a brand-new company with just a few hires, our sick leave policy was informal: if you’re sick, stay home and we’ll pay you. In 2019 we made it official, extending five paid sick days per year to every employee in addition to the three unpaid ones the law mandated. And in response to Covid, last year we made a commitment not to deduct from these sick days if an absence were Covid-related.
Thanks to some good luck and a proactive approach to Covid safety, we’ve avoided any Covid cases at Escarpment so far. Here are some of the other Covid safety measures we’re taking:
Mandatory Masks: We bought enough masks for everyone to have several, and we require everyone inside our facilities to mask up unless they’re eating or drinking.
No Visitors: The only people allowed inside our facilities are Escarpment staff and tradespeople doing essential work for us. We don’t do social tours anymore, and customers picking up orders are asked to wait outside.
Contact Tracing: External tradespeople and Escarpment staff who usually work at another facility are asked to sign a contact tracing form when they enter and leave the premises.
Sanitization: We routinely sanitize high-touch surfaces and ask people to wash their hands frequently, especially after eating or drinking.
Physical Distancing: We encourage staff to stay as far apart as possible, and have imposed a 10-person limit at our smaller facility at 8 Smith Ave.
Separated Teams: To contain a potential Covid outbreak, we’ve used a few different strategies to keep staff apart from each other. At the start of the pandemic we asked anyone who could work from home full time to do so, and divided everyone else into two shifts who alternated days working in the facility and from home. When we opened our second facility this summer, everyone was based in one facility or the other and inter-facility staffing was limited to a handful of people who were needed in both places. As of Monday we’ve made this more stringent: everyone has an assigned facility and any work that takes them to the other facility must be done off-hours, when the other team isn’t there. If we do get a Covid case here at Escarpment, hopefully this will allow us to limp along and continue to fulfil orders while we make sure the affected team is healthy and safe.
- Health Benefits: Every full-time staff member on a contract of one year or longer now enjoys a $2,000 allowance to spend on health care costs. We increased this from $1,200 in response to Covid last year. This pandemic has been (and continues to be) mentally taxing, and we encourage our staff to use this allowance to help take advantage of the numerous remote mental health services available.
This pandemic has forced everyone to make a lot of difficult compromises and sacrifices, but a paid sick leave policy was an easy decision for us even pre-Covid. In 2018 the Ontario government required businesses to provide two paid sick days per year, but the incoming Ford administration scrapped that requirement in favour of just three unpaid days. In response to the pandemic, the federal government rolled out two programmes to support workers who miss work due to Covid: the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB).
While useful, these programmes are poor substitutes for a clear and comprehensive paid sick leave policy from an employer because they are capped at $500 per week, have eligibility requirements that might not fit everyone’s needs, and require an annoying application. When someone wakes up in the morning with Covid-like symptoms, we want it to be as easy as possible for them to make the right decision and stay home.
Now, with Covid case rates rising and absent a clear government mandate to provide paid sick leave, it’s essential that businesses take the initiative to enact paid sick leave policies and other robust Covid protections to stop the spread of Covid, and to ensure the safety of their staff and customers, the health of their businesses, and the wellbeing of their communities.
Angus Ross is one of the cofounders of Escarpment Labs, managing human resources, finances, and sales.