Let's Talk About LEAVES

Part II. Sick Days (Ontario)

In the years I have practiced employment and workplace law, I have said to clients, "There is no such thing as mandatory sick days, contrary to popular belief."

I have said this in respect of the majority of employees in Canada, whose minimum rights are subject to provincial laws (instead of the federal government). Just because an employer offers sick days does not mean there is a mandatory requirement, unlike vacation or public holidays.

That is now changing.

At least, in Ontario, where changes may soon be coming.

Here we talk about those entitlements, currently and soon to be coming.

Personal Emergency Leave

Sick days in Ontario falls under Personal Emergency Leave ("PEL") in the Employment Standards Act. This leave of absence is intended to allow an employee to tend to their's or their immediate family's illness, injury, or other health related concerns. PEL is akin to taking sick days, but broader.

Below are the elements of this leave, at a glance.

Currently in Ontario, PEL works like this:

  • it is available only if the employee work for an employer with 50+ employees;
  • the employee may take up to 10 days in a year;
  • all unpaid;
  • for an:
    • illness;
    • injury;
    • medical emergency;
    • death; or
    • emergency;
  • that has happened to the employee personally, or their immediate family such as their:
    • spouse;
    • parent;
    • child;
    • grandparent;
    • child's spouse;
    • sibling; or
    • someone dependent on the employee; AND
  • the employee may be asked to show medical documents to prove it.

The relationships identified above include those related by blood, marriage (step), or adoption (foster).

When PEL was first introduced a few years ago, it was seen as a significant workplace progress for employees. However, many argue that it only paid lip service. After all, it applies only if the employee is fortunate enough to be working for an employer with at least 50 employees. As Ontario employees working for smaller employers take up a significant percentage of the Ontario workforce, a chunk of the workforce has been left out. With the proposed changes, that may soon be history.

If the proposed changes go through, this is how the new PEL would work:

  • it would be available to all;
  • it would still be up to 10 days in a year;
  • but 2 of the days would be paid, the other 8 days unpaid;
  • for the same purpose currently, but adding:
    • domestic violence; and
    • threat of domestic violence; AND
  • the employee has no obligation to show medical documents to prove it (meaning, the employer has no right to ask for it).

Traditionally, sick days are not mandatory in Ontario, and certainly not paid sick days.

If the new PEL goes through as proposed, all Ontario employees would essentially be getting mandatory sick days of up to 10 days each year, 2 of which would be paid. This is without regard to how big or small the employer is.

Forward Looking

If the proposed changes go through, it would represent a significant change to the workplace, particularly given other changes that may also be coming to Ontario workplace laws.

From the employee's perspective, it would be a welcoming change to be able to take job protected sick days off work.

The ramifications may be greater from the employer's perspective, however. For example, workplace policies have to be revised or rewritten, and employment contracts have to be revisited.

But, with changes, come opportunities.

Employers may view this as an opportune time to update policies and contracts to their benefit. This would also be an idea time to roll out workplace training sessions or workshops to help promote a more engaged and productive workplace.


Let's Talk About Leaves - Part I. Maternity and Parental

Let's Talk About LEAVES - Part III. Health Related Leaves (Ontario)