You wake up in the morning with the tell-tale signs of the flu coming on. You’re feeling feverish and your whole body aches. Then you remember that you have no sick days left and only two vacation days remaining and decide to tough it out and go into work anyway.
This situation – employees working while ill – is all too common and isn’t at all surprising given that the average full-time employee in Canada only receives 10 paid vacation days a year (15 if you live in Saskatchewan), with very few, if any, paid sick days.
Who gets to get sick?
With the exception of Prince Edward Island, no other Canadian province or territory provides a minimum number of paid sick days, and often the lower an employee’s pay the less likely they are to be covered under a voluntary sick day policy. So that often leaves employees making the call between using up one of their precious sick or vacation days, or going into work under the weather. According to Statistics Canada, the days lost per full-time paid worker due to illness or disability in 2015 was only 7.4.
So what happens when you run out of days altogether? Or you need to take an additional day off to go see a specialist? Do you tell your boss and hope for the best or do you take an unpaid sick day off and hope you don’t get fired?
You could do either. According to the Canada Human Resources Centre, an employer isn’t entitled to know the specifics around any health concern and/or disability, unless the illness directly impacts your current position.
Also, according to the Canada Labour Code, employees in Canada have “protection against dismissal, layoff, suspension, demotion, or discipline because of absence due to illness or injury”; however, an employer can request to see a doctor’s note validating your absence. The only valid reasons you can be fired are for theft, dishonesty, violence, willful misconduct, habitual neglect of duty, disobedience, or conflict of interest.
Taking sick days
If you know that you are going to be frequently absent due to appointment or illness, you may want to consider taking a sick leave. In Canada, employees who have completed three consecutive months of employment with the same employer are entitled to up to 17 weeks of sick leave protection. It’s important to note though although the Code provides job security, your employer is not required to continue paying your salary.
They are required, however, to continue to pay your pension and health and disability benefits provided the employee continues paying their normal contributions within a reasonable time frame. You may be eligible for EI Sickness Benefits under the Employment Insurance Act (EI).
How to be a good absentee
If you decide to move ahead with requesting a sick leave, it is also advisable to sit down with your human resources department first to find out what they require on their end to permit the leave. Some employers may require detailed medical documentation, including letters from doctors and specialists in order to independently substantiate the reason for your leave (as mentioned above). They can also require you to attend an independent medical assessment.
Employers are also legally required to accommodate illnesses and disabilities so after discussing your actual medical functionalities and limitations, your employer may offer you a modified position or a different role. If you refuse to accept the modified or alternate role, you can be construed as abandoning your role.
Your human resources department may go want to go over your employee file, looking in particular for examples in the past that show evidence of poor performance, insubordination, or breach of company policies.
This is also your opportunity to confirm whether or not your employer will continue to pay your extended benefits or pay while you are away. If they will not be covering your salary, you will need to ask for your Record of Employment in order to apply for EI benefits.
How to prepare for a leave of absence
- Make an appointment with your human resources department to find out what they require on their end to permit your leave (i.e. doctor’s/specialist’s note). This is also a great time to a) confirm how long a leave you can take as well as whether your salary and benefits will continue, and b) request a copy of your Record of Employment.
- Compile a list of your key responsibilities and duties in your role including any processes needed to carry them out and then make recommendations for which colleagues may be best positioned to assume these duties. At this point, you should also decide whether or not you will make yourself available during your leave for questions or assistance with your current role. Specify whether this contact can be in person, by phone, or by email and how often.
- Let your boss know about your leave, including when it will start and the duration, and provide him or her with your plan to ensure things run smoothly in your absence (see Step 2). This will show you are committed to the company and that you want to make the transition as seamless as possible both when you leave and return.
- Let your colleagues and if applicable, your customers or vendors, know about your leave and assure them that your work is being properly transitioned. When possible, introduce your customers/vendors to the person, who will be covering in your absence and provide training to your replacement if time permits.
- If your employer won’t be paying your salary, you should start the process of applying for Employment Insurance benefits (EI) as soon as possible to avoid any delays.
Regardless of what you decide to do, taking care of your health is important. Orange Naturals has an array of products that can help boost your immunity and speed recovery, enabling you to return to work in a timely fashion or to reduce your number of overall sick days.
Have you ever had to make a sick-day plan? How many sick days does your employer proved? We’d like hear from you! Leave a comment below.