Paid sick leave a win-win for employers, employees
Mandating paid sick leave for the more than one million Ontario workers who don’t currently have it would ultimately benefit both employees and employers, says Toronto employment lawyer Natalie MacDonald.
Employment law is always trying to balance the needs of employers and employees, she tells AdvocateDaily.com, acknowledging there’s some opposition to the idea of paid sick leave by smaller organizations.
“Employers are better off if employees can take paid sick days to recover from an illness,” MacDonald argues. “Rather than suffer through when they’re feeling unwell, they can rest and come back better equipped to tackle the daily activities. It means a better and more productive workforce all around.”
MacDonald, co-founding partner of Rudner MacDonald LLP and author of Extraordinary Damages in Canadian Employment Law, says most employers make allowances for sick time, even without formal benefits in place, but some are not living up to their obligations.
“Many private employers give their employees five sick days a year, even though it isn’t mandated, and others have short-term disability that kicks in quickly or they have long-term disability benefits,” she says.
The problem is those employers that don’t offer any of those options, and then are slow to provide the sick employee with a record of employment, which allows them to access government benefits.
“In Ontario, if the employer does not pay for sick days, they are supposed to provide the employee with a record of employment that states they are off for sick leave,” she explains. “The employee can then apply for temporary financial assistance for up to 15 weeks.”
An estimated 1.6 million workers in the province aren’t entitled to any job-protected, paid sick leave, and that's costing patients and the medical system, reported the Toronto Star earlier this year.
“Under the province’s outdated Employment Standards Act (ESA), workers are generally entitled to 10 emergency leave days,” says the Star. “But that leave is unpaid — and bosses can legally require their employees to provide a sick note, which doctors complain clogs up clinics with cold-ridden patients who could have otherwise just recovered at home.”
In Canada, the only province with paid sick days under its ESA legislation is P.E.I., where employees with more than five years of service are entitled to one day of paid sick leave and up to three days of unpaid sick leave a year.
The Star also reports that 145 countries around the world offer workers the right to be compensated when they’re ill, but that under Ontario law, the majority of employees are only entitled to unpaid leave.
“We lag behind 145 countries that provide this basic benefit to employees,” says MacDonald. “It’s disconcerting. We are supposed to be a First World nation, but we only have a Third World rate for sick days.”
That could change with legislative reforms to Ontario’s ESA, a process current underway, which includes consultations with employee advocacy and labour groups across the province.
In an interim report released in July, the government noted the lack of paid sick days causes unnecessary costs to patients, other workers who become infected by colleagues who are ill and the health-care system generally.
Employee advocacy groups assert the lack of legislated entitlements to paid sick days has left many precarious workers unable to stay home when sick due to fear of losing wages or their jobs, says the report.
There are huge repercussions for individuals and the larger society when employees aren’t treated with respect, says MacDonald.
“This costs the people who can least afford it, and it costs employers in lost productivity and morale," she says. "You will have a more dedicated workforce if you treat people properly and give them at least some paid time off to deal with illness and other things of that nature.”