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  • Writer's picturePat Browne

Rethinking the employment code post COVID-19

Do people come to work feeling less than 100% because they think it makes them look like a hero?

Should you take a sick day or tough it out? In the COVID-19 world, this shouldn’t even be a question. In the past, many, especially white-collar or professional workers, thought coming to work with a cold, the flu, even a headache was a sign of commitment. Called presenteeism, this is generally thought to be the result of work culture creating a stigma around taking time off.

However, before you judge anyone too harshly, we need to re-examine employment laws and sick leave. Canada does offer some protection for employees. The Canadian Labour Code ensures that employees, after a minimum of 3 consecutive months of employment, are protected for 17 weeks of an illness-related absence, as well as protected from dismissal, layoff, suspension, demotion, or discipline ( It is important to note that this offers protection from penalty, it does not mention remuneration. The decision to offer paid sick leave is left to each individual company’s discretion. That means 40% of Canadian workers in the private sector receive little to no paid sick leave.

Thousands of Canadians do not have the benefit of paid sick days.

Suddenly coming to work with a cold is not a sign of professionalism, it’s an economic reality. And this is not just the insecure or gig economy, these are people working for any company with fewer than 50 employees. A Conference Board study indicates that the situation is even more concerning for employees between the ages of 18 to 24, where only one third have paid sick days.

Rethinking laws around sick-days.

Canada is a patch work of employment laws. Rules around sick-leave differ across Canada and legislative changes are happening quickly. Currently the Canadian Labour Code stipulates that employees are allowed up to 5 days off in a calendar year for sick leave or leave related to the health or care of any of their family members, including 3 days paid after 3 months of continuous fulltime employment. What winds up happening if you have to look after a sick child or take more than 3 days off per year is employees using their vacation allowance.

What can we do in a COVID-19 world?

Coming to work with any sign of illness will not be acceptable in coming days. We, as a country, need to rethink our policy around sick days and absenteeism. COVID 19 is creating a moment of truth for all of us. We need to ask ourselves what we stand for, what our cultural values are and how we translate these into employee acceptance, productivity and participation.

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