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Deciding whether to offer a paid leave, there are many considerations

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Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Employees’ personal lives seem to interfere with their working lives significantly (many of us might say it’s the other way around!). Employees are facing increased responsibility outside the workplace, whether due to children, aging parents, military service or many other pressures of their personal lives.

Governments in various provinces and territories in Canada have responded to such pressures by legislating many types of leaves for employees, including maternity and parental/adoption leave, compassionate care leave, personal emergency leave, jury duty leave, military leave and organ donor leave, in addition to statutory holiday and vacation provisions. Most employers provide additional leaves such as sick leave or bereavement leave (when they are not statutory leaves depending on the province or territory of employment). Of all of the “leaves” available to employees both legislated and employer-provided, generally most are unpaid. However, statutory public holidays and vacations have legislative provisions requiring employees to be paid.

Employers must make their own determination of whether to provide pay for any other leave available or offered to employees.

When deciding whether to offer a paid leave, there are many considerations, including:

  1. Cost – what will it cost in real dollars and cents to pay employees who take a particular leave? Employers should review their attendance/absence records to determine the average numbers of days taken by employees in any given year for each specific leave. For instance, how many employees take a leave for jury duty each year, and what is the average length of leave taken? Also, consider whether a paid leave will encourage increased use/abuse, especially in the case of sick leave.
  2. Values v. value – Does the paid leave reflect the employer’s values or does it offer value to the employer? Education leave may offer value to the employer if a better qualified employee emerges from the leave. Paid sick leave may encourage employees to stay home while sick, thereby protecting the rest of the workplace from becoming sick and saving the employer expensive absentee time. Supporting employees’ compassionate care responsibilities or organ donations by offering such paid leaves would be an expression of the employer’s values, but may not be of value to the employer.
  3. Equity- Employers must be cognizant of how such choices would be perceived by their workforce. Most employers would not consider a gravely ill parent to be less important than an organ donation, but providing paid leave for one and not the other may be perceived that way.

A word of advice is that employers, as always, must be consistent in their application of paid leaves. To arbitrarily pay one employee for bereavement leave, and not another, is a practice no employer can afford.

The best way to ensure compliance and consistency is to have a well-drafted policies setting out the employer’s and employees’ basic rights and obligations regarding the required statutory or employer provided leaves, as well as, an attendance policy that sets out the employees’ basic obligation to attend work as scheduled, the process to request one or several of the statutory or employer provided leaves, and it should also describe how excessive levels of employee absenteeism will be handled by the employer.

Employers should note that dealing with employee absenteeism is a very complex HR task and caution is required before implementing policies and taking action. Employee absenteeism and leave of absences touches on issues of both culpable and non-culpable absences and also borders on the areas of discrimination and the duty to accommodate under human rights legislation.

If you want to know more about the rules surrounding statutory leaves, among other topics, please consult the following First Reference publication, The Human Resources Advisor, Ontario, Western or Atlantic Editions. To know how to draft one of the leave policies be it pregnancy leave or organ donor leave, and cover all your bases, consult the Human Resources PolicyPro, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Atlantic Editions.

Michele Glassford
Editor of Human Resources PolicyPro
published by First Reference Inc.

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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