The Sick Leave Conundrum

Sick Leave vs. PTO – How to Manage and What to Offer

One of the common questions we receive is about sick leave and personal time off (PTO) and what should be offered to employees. Before we dive into the details, let’s broadly define what they typically mean:

Sick leave is straightforward – these are days that are taken off work due to illness. PTO can be a little more complicated to define as this can be used for a variety of reasons which broadly have to do with managing some personal commitments the employees may have from time to time. Sometimes, PTO also includes time off taken due to illness.

What the Legal Requirements Are:

There are a number of leaves available to an employee under the British Columbia Employment Standards Act however they are all unpaid leaves. The Employment Standards Act does not require employers to offer paid sick leave. Ontario currently provides two paid sick days per year.

This means that for the most part, Canadian employers have the flexibility to decide whether they will offer employees paid time off due to illness.

40% of employers in Canada still don’t offer any paid sick leave.”

What Best Practice Says:

Despite the employee engagement benefits, 40% of employers in Canada still don’t offer any paid sick leave. Though there are many reasons why an employer may be unable to offer paid sick time, you run the risk of lower morale, encouraging presenteeism (employees coming to work and not being productive), or worse of all, forcing employees to come to work when ill and making others sick. There is nothing worse than the entire team being taken down by cold season because someone came to work sick! Whatever the reason, the risks are real to both employee health and to your organization’s bottom line.

The Personal Time Off vs. Sick Leave Debate:

For some organizations, the traditional method of providing employees with paid sick leave is nice and simple and they prefer to manage it that way. For other organizations, the traditional method isn’t working anymore, and they are looking for a different way forward.

Depending on your stance on taking time away from work for personal reasons other than vacation, you might decide to offer Personal Time Off instead of, or in addition to, Sick Leave.

The Pros of offering PTO:

  • Flexibility – employees can self-manage their time away from work
  • Encourages wellness over treating illness – prevention is emphasized
  • Demonstrates trust in employees (no more phone calls that I am “cough cough” sick)
  • Easier to administer – no more doctors notes!

The Cons of offering PTO:

  • Some rules may be necessary to ensure that PTO is a planned absence instead of a “morning of” phone call.
  • Employers have to let go knowing why someone is off work – personal time is personal time and there are no questions asked.
  • Employees may use up PTO and have no paid time off when actually sick

Your Engaged Assignment: Deciding on whether to provide sick-time off or PTO is a strategic decision that considers multiple factors and needs to also adequately reflect the work/life balance philosophy of your organization.

Not sure how to go about creating a policy around sick time and PTO? We’ve got some best practice ideas and are here to support!