How do personal and sick leave regulations affect company culture? Today, we demystify the often tricky issue of paid leave and give you some ideas on how to better implement standard personal and sick leave policies in your own workplace.


Related reading: How to Design an Effective Employee Wellness Program


Personal and sick leave legal requirements

To start, what are the firm Canadian labour laws surrounding sick leave? The Canada Labour Code paid sick leave legislation outlines that team members who have been with a company for a minimum of three consecutive months are entitled to sick leave protection. This means that for up to (but not exceeding) 17 weeks of an illness-related absence, the employee is protected from dismissal, layoff, suspension, demotion, or discipline.

It is important to note that these 17 weeks do not include other types of leave, such as compassionate care or critical illness. These secondary types of leave may be interrupted with sick time off, and only then does the 17-week limit begin.

For sick leave in Canada specifically, the Code does state that if an employer requires a note from a doctor, then the team member is obliged to produce it within 15 days of returning to work. Otherwise, a team member taking fewer than 17 weeks cannot be penalized by their employer under Canadian law.

The guidelines above, however, only protect the employee from a penalty. The Code clearly states that there is no current provision in place which mandates that any part of this leave must be paid for by the employer, but rather mentions that some employees may be eligible for Employment Insurance through the government if they will miss a significant portion of their wages as a result of illness.

What this means is that the decision to offer paid sick leave is left to an individual company’s discretion. Perhaps as a result of this lack of government intervention, nearly 40% of Canadian workers in the private sector are offered no paid sick leave whatsoever. If you work for a company that is just now considering a plan to offer team members paid sick days or personal leave, congratulations! We think you’re on the right track. Still, you may find yourself faced with some tricky decisions on policy particulars.

Paid time off policies and company culture

For instance, should sick leave be rolled into a homogenous “personal time” category, which covers a variety of paid time off allotted to a team member—including personal leave, mental health days, sick leave, and even vacation time?

At least one people and culture expert says no, arguing that clearly defined sick leave allows team members to have guilt-free time to recover from illness without worrying that it will ruin any plans they may have had for a vacation later on in the year.

Clearly separating paid sick time off from vacation ensures that your team members are not at risk of burning out later in the year due to a lack of a proper break from work. It also keeps team members from “toughing it out” in the office and passing their symptoms on to their co-workers.

Do team members feel like they have to come into the office, even if they’re sick? Does an overly-competitive environment mean people are afraid to miss work, even for a legitimate reason? Check in with your team to make sure that your policy is clearly communicated and understood.

Implementing a fair sick leave policy will improve productivity by putting team wellness first. Still, it’s important to nail down the specifics when creating your plan. First, it’s good to consider whether you wish for the sick leave to be tiered based on seniority or whether you wish to offer a flat number of days, regardless of tenure.

If you are a fairly new company with a young workforce, the first option may be more beneficial, as it encourages recent hires to stay and grow within the company. Larger, established workplaces can afford to have more flexibility and instead focus on whichever option better fits their company culture.

Paid sick leave eligibility

Next, you’ll want to consider guidelines for eligibility. Before you implement a standard paid time off policy, determine the guidelines. Will you grant five unquestioned paid sick or personal days that a team member may take at any time of the year, or will you require a doctor’s note as proof of genuine illness? Are there blackout dates during which no one is allowed to take time off? Will you count a mental health day as a valid explanation for missing work?

While the field is certainly wide open when it comes to developing a policy surrounding the supervision of sick days, it’s always worth considering what impact a stricter or more invasive guideline has on workplace culture. Two-way trust goes a long way.

Finally, implementing a return to work program for longer-term absences prevents a team member from feeling overwhelmed or out of the loop on their first day back. This can also be prevented by requiring that the team member maintains some form of contact with their supervisor during their absence to ensure that unfinished work can either be completed by a colleague or postponed until the absent team member’s return.

Related reading: Employee Sick Time Policy Recommendations for HR Leaders

Over to you

In sum, make sure that your approach to personal and sick leave reflects your company’s culture and values, and serves the whole team in equal measure. A well-structured paid leave policy may, in the long run, save the company far more than a few days’ loss of wages and go far in building and maintaining long-term loyalty from your people.

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