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N.S. extends paid sick leave program ‘while COVID is still very active’

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia paid sick leave program now in effect' Nova Scotia paid sick leave program now in effect
Nova Scotia’s relaunch of the paid sick leave program took effect on Monday. The program covers up to four sick leave days for employees up to a maximum of $20 per hour – but the program is only for workers who have to stay home due to COVID-19, prompting renewed calls for the province to legislate a permanent paid sick leave program. Alicia Draus reports – Jan 10, 2022

Nova Scotia is extending its paid sick leave program by more than a month, as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the province.

The program, which offers a maximum payment of $640 per worker, was scheduled to end March 31. It will now be extended until May 7, which means people who took sick days between April 1 and May 7 may be eligible for reimbursement.

Read more: Calls grow for permanent paid sick leave as N.S. tells people to ‘get back out there’

The new end date aligns with the end of Canada’s Sickness Recovery Benefit. That federal program is available to employees and self-employed workers who have missed 50 per cent of more of their scheduled work week because of COVID-19.

“Nova Scotians know how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work, and we’re happy to support them in making the right decisions,” said Premier Tim Houston in a release.

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“We continue to listen to Nova Scotians and remain focused on keeping workplaces safe. Extending the program supports this objective.”

The COVID-19 paid sick leave program was first launched in May 2021 and covered sick days from May 10 to July 31, 2021 — resulting in about $600,000 that was paid out. The program was relaunched in December 2021, as cases surged due to the Omicron variant.

It is open to all employers and self-employed workers, and covers wages up to a maximum of $20 per hour or $160 per day.

People who miss less than 50 per cent of their scheduled work time in a one-week period can apply if they need to self-isolate because of exposure to COVID-19, being a close contact, or because they feel symptoms and need to get tested.

People can also qualify if they take time off to get a vaccine or booster shot.

“Eligible businesses that continue to pay their employees during their leave, and self-employed workers who miss time, may be reimbursed as quickly as five business days from their application,” the province noted in a news release.

Calls for permanent program

Prior to the province’s announcement it would extend the program, there were calls for a permanent program for workers.

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The situation has been especially concerning since case numbers have continued to climb after the province lifted most COVID-19 restrictions on March 21.

Hospitalizations have also risen, and Nova Scotia Health has begun limiting surgeries “to ensure sufficient inpatient bed capacity.”

Read more: COVID-19 - N.S. health workers ‘overwhelmed’ as hospitals reach capacity, staff off sick

Chris Parsons, the provincial coordinator for the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, told Global News the temporary program was “inadequate” to begin with, but “better than nothing.”

He said workers need more than just four sick days, and only making the program available for people who need to miss work due to COVID-19 is too narrow in scope.

Read more: New report outlines ‘urgent need’ for permanent paid sick leave in Nova Scotia

The NDP has a bill before the legislature that would give workers in the province up to 10 paid sick days a year.

In a statement Monday, NDP Leader Gary Burrill said while he was glad to see the extension, it was “unfortunate” that government was simply temporarily extending a limited program.

“People in Nova Scotia deserve the security of knowing that when they are sick, they can afford to stay home. This means we need permanent paid sick days as part of the Labour Standards Code in Nova Scotia,” Burrill said.

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Jill Balser, Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration, said she is “actively engaged” in conversations with other provincial labour ministers about a permanent sick leave program.

“In the meantime, while COVID is still very active in our communities, we want to make sure Nova Scotians can access this temporary program, which people have told us has been helpful in keeping COVID out of the workplace,” she said in a release.

Click to play video: 'New report calls on N.S. government to legislate paid sick leave' New report calls on N.S. government to legislate paid sick leave
New report calls on N.S. government to legislate paid sick leave – Jul 28, 2021

— with files from Alex Cooke 

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