Tim Hortons responds to backlash over sick-leave policy amid COVID-19 outbreak

Tim Hortons responds to backlash over sick-leave policy amid COVID-19 outbreak

Following backlash over its sick leave policies, Tim Hortons says it is working with 1,500 franchisees across Canada to ensure they follow the advice of public officials amid the coronavirus outbreak — including not requiring sick employees to provide doctors’ notes.

But the company, owned by a multibillion-dollar fast-food conglomerate, did not provide details on how it will enforce that policy at individual franchises — or on whether employees will compensated for time off when ill.

Press Progress, a non-profit news organization founded by the Broadbent Institute, reported Friday that some Tim Hortons outlets are requiring workers to provide notes from doctors to take unpaid sick days.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday, Tim Hortons said there was “a lot of misinformation circulating.”

“We have been working with our 1,500 restaurant owners in Canada to follow the advice of their local public health authorities in all cases — including not requiring a doctor’s note when an employee reports in sick,” the statement said.

“Team members should always stay home if they are sick,” it added.

The statement attracted hundreds of comments on Twitter, with many demanding clarity on whether employees will be paid if they do so.

“Will you take one more step @TimHortons and ensure that sick employees will not be docked pay?” wrote Twitter user Dan Harmer. “Many minimum wage employees can’t afford to get zero in their paycheques. You and the franchisees need to step up and help your workers.”

Restaurant Brands International, the multinational holding company that owns Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes, did not respond to specific questions from the Star about whether sick employees will be compensated.

In an emailed statement, the company told the Star it was “working hard to do the right thing for the communities we live and work in.”

Two Tim Hortons outlets in Winnipeg are unionized with Workers United; employees at those franchises provide doctors’ notes at management’s discretion — and on management’s dime, said union rep Andy Spence.

“We were successful in this past bargaining to require the employer to pay for such notes, should they request, for employees who miss up to three days,” he said.

Although Tim Hortons’ Saturday statement says the company is working on a “clear” approach across Canada, Spence said sick leave policies are usually at franchisees’ discretion.

Advocates warn that low-wage workers will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 — especially those who cannot work from home and are not entitled to paid sick days.

“The disaster facing workers is being compounded by public policy measures that fail to address the needs of workers,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre.

“Hundreds of thousands of workers will be without wages as schools and universities close and as public events are cancelled. Neither the Ontario nor federal government has moved to protect workers in this time of crisis.”

Under Ontario law, employees are entitled to three unpaid, job-protected sick days a year.

Previously, Ontario workers were entitled to 10 job-protected leave days, two of them paid, and were not required to provide sick notes. Those provisions were reversed by Doug Ford’s government in 2018.

Speaking during question period at Queen’s Park last week, Health Minister Christine Elliott said sick notes “can be asked for in some circumstances by employers, but employers in Ontario right now understand that we are dealing with a very unusual set of circumstances.

“They’re responding accordingly,” she said.

Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, which represents 45,000 businesses, said her organization is holding daily calls with members to look at best practices on coping with the outbreak, including sick leave policies.

“It’s currently a moving target, and I mean that in a positive way,” she told the Star.

“Most (employers) are currently not requiring doctors’ notes but they’re also looking for guidance from government,” she told the Star.

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Brisebois said she was “not hearing any thing specific on unpaid sick days,” but said some employers were topping up workers’ employment insurance payments or creating special funds for employees who need to self-isolate.

Walmart Canada told the Star quarantined workers will be paid for the hours they were scheduled to work during their isolation period.

In a letter sent this week to employees and shared with the Star, Starbucks Canada president Lori Digulla said quarantined workers will be eligible for up to 14 days of “catastrophe” pay.

“At the end of 14 days, if partners are still unable to return to work, additional pay replacement may be made up to 26 weeks,” the letter says.

Catherine Thomas, senior director of external communication for Loblaw Cos. Ltd., said both full-time and part-time employees who have been mandated by a public health official to enter into self-quarantine will “be eligible for 100 per cent pay protection.”

In a statement to the Star, McDonalds Canada said corporate-owned restaurants and “many franchisees” have “policies in place to offer paid time off, and do not require employees to present a doctor’s note during these unprecedented times.”

According to a letter shared with the Star, Canadian fashion retailer Aritzia’s executive vice-president Pippa Morgan told employees that scheduled hours in stores would be decreasing as a result of COVID-19.

“In lieu of hours, we encourage you to use your vacation days, if available to you, to offset the time off.”

Aritzia did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

The Decent Work and Health Network, a coalition of health care workers focused on income inequality and precarious jobs, has called on provincial and federal governments to institute seven paid sick days for workers, as well as 14 additional days during pandemics.

The group has also called for an end to doctors’ note requirements, improved access to employment insurance, and an emergency fund for workers who do not have access to EI.

According to the provincial workers compensation board, occupational illness claims made by workers with possible work-related exposure to COVID-19 will be “adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the facts and circumstances.”

Alberta’s provincial government announced new measures this week to provide workers with 14 job-protected sick days, and waive the requirement to provide doctors’ notes.

In the United States, Congress passed an emergency coronavirus bill Friday that includes a provision for two weeks of paid sick leave for some workers impacted by COVID-19.

TORONTO STAR

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