Sick Leave

The PSAC negotiates strong collective agreements for its members, many of whom work in the federal public service. A key provision in the collective agreements of public service workers is sick leave, which allows full-time workers 15 days per year of leave for use in case of illness or injury.

Government proposal on sick leave

If the government’s proposals are implemented, workers will be forced to choose between going to work sick or losing pay for basic necessities. The proposal would eliminate all accumulated sick leave for public servants, reduce the amount of annual sick leave to 37.5 hours a year subject to the absolute discretion of the employer, and institute a 7-day waiting period without pay before people can access short-term disability benefits.

Government tables “Go-to-work-sick” proposal for federal public service (11 September 2014) »

PSAC position on sick leave

In line with the membership, the PSAC rejects attempts by the government to reduce sick leave and will resist any attempt by government to impose changes without the union’s consent, or through unfair processes such as those pushed through in Bill C-4. Moreover, PSAC affirms that all workers in Canada should have the right to paid sick leave. To this end, we are inspired by developments south of the border in New York City, which passed a law expanding paid sick leave to workers in all businesses with more than five employees

National President Robyn Benson speaking in defence of sick leave at rally outside Treasury Board offices »


The truth behind Harper’s Go-to-work-sick plan (15 September 2014) »

Sick leave doesn’t cost government extra: PBO report (July 2014) »

Ten things you need to know about sick leave in the federal public service (29 May 2014) »

Recorded telephone town hall on sick leave (29 april 2014) »

Did you receive a ‘workplace wellness strategy’ e-mail from your employer? If so, don’t be fooled! »

PSAC pamphlet on sick leave »

Nine myths about paid sick leave (CAPE) »

Parliamentary Budget Officer questions the government’s numbers on public sector sick leave »

Federal government workers and sick leave: the facts »

Statistics Canada study on sick leave »

Statements by Conservative government officials about sick leave »

PSAC members talk about importance of sick leave


Sick leave ensures productivity

Sick leave provisions ensure that workers who are sick are able to take time off to get better without losing their salaries, and that workers who have a cold don’t return to work prematurely, only to transmit their cold and coughs to co-workers. In this sense, sick leave provisions in the collective agreement enhance overall productivity by ensuring, to a practical extent, that sicknesses don’t spread.

Sick leave is not cashable

Unused sick leave accumulates each year but, contrary to some claims in the media and by government officials, is in no way cashable upon retirement. Sick leave is effectively an insurance policy: younger workers tend to fall sick less often and therefore accumulate their leave for when they are older and possibly falling ill more often. Sick leave that is not used at retirement time is lost, not cashed out.

Sick leave is managed

When a worker requests sick leave, the responsible manager is charged with ensuring that the leave request is genuine, and that adequate medical certification is offered when deemed necessary. In the public service, moreover, workers are rarely replaced when they are sick, meaning that workers are still responsible for finishing their assigned work when they return to the office.

Private sector and public sector comparisons

Claims are often made in the media about how workers in the private sector take fewer sick days than those in the public sector. Such comparisons are meaningless and akin to comparing apples and oranges: it is obviously the case that private sector workers who do not have the right to sick leave will naturally take fewer sick days than unionized public sector workers who do have the right to sick leave. Indeed, many of these private sector workers may be forced to come to work sick, and, for example, spread their colds to co-workers, thereby further reducing productivity.

Gap between private and public sector absenteeism is minimal

Comparisons between private and public sectors can be made, but such comparisons must account for factors such as unionization, gender and age in each sector. In September 2013, Statistics Canada issued a study that confirms what PSAC has been stating for some time: the public sector is heavily unionized, employs more women and has an older workforce. Once these three factors are considered, the gap in the public versus private sector is virtually eliminated, amounting to a difference of less than a day per year.

The Conservative government wants to reduce sick leave

The Stephen Harper Conservatives led by Treasury Board President Tony Clement repeatedly claim that public services workers are abusing sick leave and that sick leave provisions must be reduced.

PSAC commentary on sick leave

Should it come with a health warning? (Robyn Benson, 1 October 2013) »

Public Service Week, Harper government style (Robyn Benson, 12 June 2013) »

Well, Happy Saint Paddy’s Day to all! (Larry Rousseau, 17 March 2013) »