Sick Leave in Canada


Paid sick leave is a contentious issue right now for Canadians. While many American states are making ground with their fight for paid sick leave, Canada has made little progress in terms of improving minimum sick leave standards for employees.

To look at the facts:

  • There is no law that requires employers to provide pay for sick days. However, many organizations allow a certain number of paid sick days as outlined in their employment contract, sick leave policy or  HR policy manual.
  • A Conference Board of Canada study points out that young workers and seniors are at most risk of not having sick leave available, especially in construction, retail and service sectors.
  • If employer sick leave lacks, fortunately, we have EI. Employment Insurance can pay over half of one’s average earnings for up to 15 weeks if an employee is struck with long term illness. That’s great! Or is it… to be eligible, claimants must be employed at the time of application, have accumulated 600 hours of insurable employment during the previous year, and have had wages reduced by at least 40% . The application process takes over an hour and is followed by a two week waiting period before benefits will be paid.
  • Of all the provinces, only Prince Edward Island mandates short-term paid sick leave, and this applies only for one day and only for employees who have been employed by the same company for at least five consecutive years.
  • In terms of unpaid, job protected leave, Alberta, British Columbia and Nunavut do not offer guaranteed job protection in the case of illness. Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island guarantee only three days per year of job protection during illness; New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories guarantee five days; and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador guarantees seven days. Ontario guarantees 10 days of job protection, but only to employees in a business with 50 or more employees.

After all of these facts we are left with a key point: employees cannot afford to get sick. Ask any front-line service worker if they would call in sick. The mixed responses are “yes, and lose a day’s pay”, “yes but I won’t be allowed back to work” or “of course not, I can’t afford it, so I just work through illness.” This is especially a concern for those working in the food industry…

Perhaps we have missed the point of what sick leave is for. Statistics, and good common sense, show that recovery is slowed and detrimental for employees who are required to work while sick. It seems obvious that taking a day of rest, to get fresh air or do a leisure activity, will do wonders to someone’s wellbeing – however if it means losing a day’s pay very few people will do so.

In terms of productivity, even if most sickness won’t result in a wild gastronomical virus going viral, productivity is surely affected. Workers, however, obviously aren’t as effective while they are sick – not only are they feeling miserable, but are constantly thinking about their illness (cough, cough), taking measures to treat it (more Kleenex!) and sharing an overall negative vibe (along with contagious bugs) amongst their coworkers.

Employers must question whether this is, in fact, more costly to the company than simply paying a day’s wage to stay home, feel cared for by their organization, secure in their employment and able to return to work healthy.

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