Montreal — The COVID-19 pandemic exposed large gaps in sickness and caregiving leave provisions available to workers across the country. To make up for these shortcomings, federal, provincial and territorial governments had to introduce a suite of emergency income-support programs and job-protection laws. With these temporary measures set to expire in coming months, a new study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy calls for permanent reforms to provide access to short-term paid and protected sickness and caregiving leaves to all working Canadians.
In their IRPP study, co-authors Eric Tucker and Leah Vosko recommend that workers be eligible for 15 days of paid leave to cover both sickness and caregiving needs, which would bring Canada in in line with its international peers.
“This is very much in keeping with employment standards seen elsewhere around the world. In fact, Canada is a laggard in this regard; we have a lot of catching up to do,” says Vosko. “Prior to COVID, less than half of workers in Canada had access to employer-provided paid and protected leaves.”
As was shown during the pandemic, when workers decide not to take time off because of inadequate leave protections and benefits, it can have major repercussions not just for those individuals and their employers, but for society at large. Sick people who go to work can spread infection to their co-workers. In addition, neglecting one’s health can lead to longer absences, more serious problems and lower productivity.
The authors also emphasize that women are disproportionately affected by inadequate paid sickness and caregiving leaves. Indeed, women are more likely to be primary caregivers and to be in precarious jobs, as are racialized workers or recent immigrants.
“Now is the time to change our leave regimes,” says Tucker, adding that separate measures will be required for the growing numbers of self-employed workers who are currently without any coverage.
“Once the pandemic-response measures expire, the old rules that forced sick workers or those with caregiving responsibilities to decide whether they could afford to take time off from work will once again prevail. Governments at all levels need to act now to permanently redesign their short-term protected sickness- and caregiving-leave regimes.”
Designing a Paid Employment Leave Program for Short-Term Sickness and Caregiving Needs, by Eric M. Tucker and Leah F. Vosko, can be downloaded from the IRPP’s website (irpp.org).
The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.
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