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Vacation vs. Sick Leave


One of the benefits many people negotiate when they’re hired is more vacation time.  In Ontario, The Employment Standards Act specifies  just 2 weeks of vacation time after 12 months worked;  many employers choose to offer 3 weeks.  Mercer conducted a global study in 2012 and Canada was the only country where workers indicated they’d opt for more vacation than a modest pay raise.

Yet many employees don’t take all their vacation in the year in which it’s earned.  Sometimes it’s because of work demands but more often it’s due to personal choice.  Some employees are workaholics, afraid for whatever reasons to be away from what’s going on at work.  Others take a couple of vacation days at a time, often around a public holiday, so they can take a couple of days every month.  These tactics  defeat the purpose of R&R:  adequate time to get out of work mode, gear down, totally decompress then build reserves back up again.

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) don’t usually allow for large blocks of vacation time to be carried forward so the individual can take them at a much later date or have them paid out when they leave the employer at the current (usually much higher)  rate of pay.  Many employers are instituting “use it or lose it” policies which help individuals manage their time.

Interestingly, it’s often the people who don’t take their vacation in meaningful blocks of time who use more sick days. Sick leave is an ”insurance” policy so that if people have bona fide personal illness (e.g. the flu, cancer, surgery, etc.) they’re protected.  Sick leave isn’t an “entitlement”, an extension to vacation or time off for sick family, visiting the accountant, etc.;  many employers have introduced ”personal days” for those occasions.  Employers who track and review sick leave (e.g. patterns including half or full days on Mondays or Fridays, days before or after a public holiday, etc.) find their absenteeism drops.  The employee who is sick 6 days in a year on 1 or 2 occasions for pneumonia is quite different than the employee who is sick 6 days in a year on 12 occasions for “headaches”.  There is a duty to accommodate but the onus is on the employee to disclose the issue and recommend ways to accommodate it;  then the obligation of the employer is to provide appropriate accommodation as long as it doesn’t cause undue financial hardship.

Canada’s Top 100 Employers are often chosen because of their focus on ”Wellness”.  They understand the importance of work-life balance and how stressful it can be to manage work, family (elder as well as child care), on-going learning, volunteering in the community…so they offer a range of programs to provide advice and support including:

  1. Employee Assistance Programs with free, confidential counselling on a range of work-life challenges
  2. Fitness programs with either on-site gyms with personal trainers or free or subsidized memberships for off-site gyms
  3. Nutrition programs led by Registered Dietitians and including weight loss programs, heart healthy menus in the cafeteria and snacks in the vending machines
  4. On-site day care so children can be visited during the day at lunch and on coffee breaks
  5. Wellness programs: everything from flu shot clinics to smoking cessation workshops to alternative health services (on-site massages, meditation, Reiki, yoga…)

Total wellness is a win-win.  Staff have the resources they need and want to ensure mental as well as physical health supporting work-life balance.  Employers have healthier, more energetic and engaged staff who take fewer sick days off and who are less likely to leave for another employer….who does promote wellness!

Summer, prime vacation time, is fast approaching.  If you’ve never taken more than a couple of days at a time, try scheduling at least 2 weeks off.  Whether you lounge on your patio at home or visit somewhere you’ve never been before, you’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel!