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Why employers should provide paid sick days (and not just because of COVID-19)

April 21, 2021

Following Brian’s recent blog, we’ve learned that Toronto and Peel employers are under new public health orders because of a rise in COVID-19 cases. While the orders sanction employers for workplace outbreaks, they don’t require employers to pay employees during closures. It’s only strongly recommended.

In Ontario, most employees are allowed up to three unpaid sick days per year. Although the idea of mandatory paid sick days has been discussed, as it stands, employees tend only to have access to them if their employment agreement or workplace policies say they do. About 40 percent of Canadian workers have access to paid sick days. And for low-wage workers, it’s only 10 percent.

Without mandatory paid sick days, those percentages will likely not increase. Providing paid sick days costs money, and for many employers, it’s an expense they think they can do without.

But providing paid sick days is a good idea that is worth the cost. Here’s why:

  • It helps prevent the spread of illnesses in the workforce – Employees who come to work sick are more likely to make others sick. Providing an incentive to stay at home during an illness will help reduce exposure to contagious illnesses like COVID-19.
  • It helps alleviate employee concerns – Employees, particularly low-wage earners, wouldn’t have to make the tough decision between coming to work sick or losing money by staying home. Employees should not have to deal with anxiety and depression in addition to another health concern.
  • It allows employees to recover more quickly – People tend to get better when they are well rested. If an employee is forced to come to work while sick for fear of lost wages, she may take longer to recover.
  • It helps boosts productivity – Presenteeism is the lost productivity when employees are not functioning at an adequate capacity, including because of illness. Employers are better off if an employee takes a few days to recover from an illness to return at 100 percent capacity, rather than risk an employee working for days on end at half or little capacity because of an illness.
  • It helps with recruitment and retention – Employers that provide paid sick days are more appealing to prospective employees than those that don’t. Employers are also less likely to lose talent by employees leaving their organization for places that provide paid sick leave and other benefits. In this regard, employers may also consider work-from-home accommodations for employees with chronic illnesses or that have family members needing care.

Employers that provide paid sick days are choosing to create healthier and safer workplaces. Although there is a cost, it’s worth it.