Unexpected COVID-related sick calls leave some employers scrambling

·2 min read
A worker at this construction site in Charlottetown had to leave work Tuesday because they were a close contact of someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.  (Laura Meader/CBC  - image credit)
A worker at this construction site in Charlottetown had to leave work Tuesday because they were a close contact of someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise on P.E.I., some business owners say unexpected sick calls are becoming more frequent.

Cory Arsenault, a supervisor with Arsenault Brothers Construction, said health rules are taking people out of the workplace at a time when his workers are already in short supply.

"As recently as yesterday, get a phone call and basically have [them] drop what they're doing and take off. They were a close contact of someone," said Arsenault.

"All of a sudden their partner has nobody to work with, so you're scrambling."

Arsenault said it hasn't been a huge problem yet, but that could change.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

"With the cases rising here right now, you know we're bracing for what gets thrown at us," he said.

There are more than 500 active cases of COVID-19 on P.E.I. right now, which represents roughly half the total case count on the Island since the start of the pandemic. The province said there is widespread community transmission.

Arsenault said paid sick leave is not offered for workers at Arsenault Brothers Construction.

"For some people that may have symptoms, [they] may probably hide them because they need to come to work to support their families," he said. "Basically the hours that you work are the hours you get paid."

Provincial employees in all sectors will need time off too. Recently, courts in Charlottetown had to shut down when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Employees were sent home and courtrooms were closed, the province said.

"We recognize that there have been and will continue to be employees that need time off due to exposures or illness, these measures and practices have proved to enhance safety for all employees and their clients," a spokesperson for the province said in an email to the CBC.

'Difficult to find somebody in a snap'

Managing shortages is harder for smaller businesses with fewer staff, said Louis-Philippe Gauthier of the Canadian Federation for Independent Business.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

"When you are a smaller business it is more difficult to find somebody in a snap to help you out and to keep your business going," said Gauthier.

"So that's a concern for small business owners across the Island and across Atlantic Canada at this point."

Many businesses will be shorthanded in the coming weeks, and Gauthier said that's been an unfortunate reality throughout the pandemic.

Any time new public health measures are announced, revenue and staff availability go down, Gauthier said, and that has employers worried about an uncertain future.

If in the future we see fewer hospitalizations from the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the government should look carefully at the restrictions imposed on businesses, Gauthier said.

"Hope is not a strategy, but at the end of the day, one would hope that we can put COVID overall behind us," Gauthier said

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