The Nova Scotia government's updated paid sick leave program launches today, and will now include people waiting on rapid tests and those who need time off work to get a booster shot, says the province's minister of labour, skills and immigration.
Employers can apply online, and the program is expected to open later today.
The province announced in December that it would relaunch its paid sick leave program to deal with the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Nova Scotians who miss work between Dec. 20, 2021, and March 31, 2022, because of COVID-19 could receive up to four sick days, which do not need to be taken consecutively.
Information Morning host Portia Clark spoke with Labour Minister Jill Balser on Monday about why the provincial government wanted to bring the program back, and how it will be different from its predecessor.
Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Why did the program stop so that it had to be relaunched, given that people have been off work related to COVID-19 throughout this whole period?
Watching the epidemiology and paying attention to the vaccine rates is really what informs the decisions that are made, and so back over the holidays, when we did see increasing numbers because of the Omicron variant, we wanted to be able to respond. Being able to offer this temporary program at this point in time we hope will help with some of the stress that maybe Nova Scotians are feeling right now.
Has the program changed or is it different from what was offered last spring?
A lot of the program is the same. For folks who may have applied or have seen the program in its first stage, we'll see a lot of those similarities stay put for this version.
A couple changes that we really did want to highlight today for folks that are considering the program is that we have added rapid testing, so if individuals are waiting for the results of a rapid test, they are eligible under this version of the program. We know that the fourth wave is a little different than the third wave so we've also added booster appointments, so if folks are waiting for a booster appointment or book their time off to go get their booster, they're also eligible under this program.
So people can get coverage for rapid testing?
They do, and that was one thing that we wanted to make sure was changed for this version. Folks have been using rapid tests, so knowing that they needed time to isolate while they were waiting meant that we wanted to make sure that the program took the shape that we're seeing in this fourth wave, which includes rapid tests as well as boosters.
Say you're working in a small restaurant and you don't have paid sick days with that kind of employment, then you get COVID-19. What happens?
Under the program, you do get up to four work days if you miss less than 50 per cent of your scheduled work time. So if you are working in a restaurant, for example, you did book your booster appointment and you needed a couple of hours off to go get your booster, the time that you needed would be eligible under this program.
And if you miss more than 50 per cent?
Then there are some federal supports, and so it's important for Nova Scotians to know that our program is really bridging the gap that they may have seen under the federal program. If you do require more than four days, there are additional supports under that federal program.
How does the employer help facilitate this for the person who needs the time off?
It is an employer-led program, so the employer does have to apply on behalf of their employees. So if they're working with their employees and know that they require that time off either to isolate because they're waiting for the results of the test, the employer would put through that application process.
It is an online form, and employers who did apply in the first version are eligible to apply again under the second version. It is really the same application form online, and of course, I would encourage any employers who have questions to reach out to us directly and ask those questions.
And this is to a maximum of $640 per worker?
That's correct. Employers are eligible up to a maximum of $20 per hour, or up to $160 per day, and then they could get that maximum of $640 per employee.
For those who have been sent home to work for COVID safety reasons, they can't access this, right?
This program really is intended for employees who don't have access to paid sick leave at this time. So if individuals do have the ability to be able to work remotely then we encourage them to be able to do so and to continue working.
However … if people do have questions of whether or not there is time in that adjustment phase that might be eligible under this program, say for example, if someone found out that they were going to miss some of their time off and it happened to be a couple of hours in that transition to really look to us for some answers and to reach out to us if they do have those questions.
Outside of the pandemic, might some of this become permanent because people may need more sick days here in Nova Scotia than they actually qualify for?
The decision to make it permanent hasn't been made at this time, but we are going to look at the results and make sure that we continue on that conversation, and so looking at the data, encouraging people to apply and then seeing the results once … the temporary program is ended.
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