Businesses struggling with employee absences caused by COVID-19

As more people return to work during the pandemic, employers are facing a difficult balancing act.

Most of B.C.’s public health measures have been relaxed for months, and so have many people's concerns over getting sick – but the threat of infection remains, and workplaces are still being hit hard.

According to the WorkSafeBC website, thousands of people in the province have filed COVID-19 claims since the start of the year, alleging they contracted the virus through work.

The number of claims registered jumped from 212 in December to 2,282 in January.

The number of claims accepted spiked from 123 in December to 718 in January. In February, 1,855 were accepted.

In a statement, WorkSafeBC said the number of claims is proportional to the number of cases in the community. If cases are high, claims go up.

With more workers bedridden from COVID-19, many businesses have experienced a loss in productivity.

Nigel Pike, the co-owner of The Cascade Room, had to cut hours at his restaurant to make up for the lack of staff.

He said he’s been looking to hire for months and, like most businesses, has run short of luck.

"It's a challenge, that's for sure,” he said.

"You know, for my 20-odd years in Vancouver in this business, it's the first time I've actually (questioned), 'Why am I in this business?'"

Ravi Kahlon, the minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, said the province has implemented a number of measures, including rapid testing and paid sick leave to ensure workers’ safety.

"This is why we brought in paid sick-leave: to ensure that if a worker is sick, they don't need to choose between getting other people at work sick or putting food on the table,” he said.

Kahlon encouraged employees to do the right thing and stay home if they’re ill: “Protect your co-workers and your families.”

Pike said about half of his employees have claimed sick pay.

"40 per cent of our employees already have claimed the five-day sick pay,” he said.

University of Saskatchewan professor and epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine said the rise in COVID-19 claims don't come as a surprise to him, with measures lifted and rapid testing reduced.

"All of the provinces are having too many hospitalizations, too many cases. And we are not in control of this pandemic,” he said.

“We are pretending that it’s kind of faded away. It hasn’t,” he continued.

He said absences will continue to be a problem unless people get boosted and keep wearing masks.