The sick day scam

Costly sick-day banks and chronic absenteeism. It’s time to rein in this public sector perk.


Something ails Ontario’s teachers. Male and female educators, in Catholic and public school boards alike, are falling ill in record numbers. This troubling, pernicious illness tends to strike hardest on Fridays and Mondays, particularly when the sun is shining.

On one sunny Friday last month, almost one in five teachers called in sick in suburban Toronto’s sprawling Peel district, leaving officials scrambling to fill the void. In the Toronto District School Board itself, figures show 6,500 more teachers were absent with an illness this May than in either 2011 or 2012. In one Toronto school, every day this spring, 25 per cent of the teachers were off sick, says Toronto trustee Jerry Chadwick, a former principal.

In Peel, librarians and special education teachers had to cancel programs to help supervise classrooms because there weren’t enough supply teachers to call on. Some high schools simply called off classes. “People who can’t teach math are teaching math,” says Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association. Same goes for French, adds trustee John del Grande.

The country’s Public Health Agency reported little or no flu in Ontario in either May or June. Rather, officials argue the sudden wave of ill teachers is fallout from contracts Queen’s Park imposed earlier this year.

While the contracts allotted many teachers 16 days of sick and personal leave, they ended the right of new teachers to bank unused sick leave year-to-year, only to cash it out at retirement, a parting gift that had been worth a maximum of $46,000. Barred from storing up unused sick days, some teachers have taken to treating their sick and personal leave as an additional three weeks of vacation time, atop their two-month summer break.

And so what seemed, fleetingly, like a win for Ontario’s cash-strapped government could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year for substitute staff. School officials need only look west to appreciate the scale of the problem: Last year, absenteeism cost the Vancouver School Board $20 million. “It’s a mess,” says Toronto trustee Howard Goodman. “Boards are facing a serious financial hit.” And it’s not just teachers.

The public sector is rife with rampant sick-day abuse. The problem has been building for decades, creating huge financial burdens for governments. Officials are taking steps to rein in this type of perk and bring the public service more in line with the workplace realities faced by most Canadians, who have short-term disability plans, not bankable sick days at 100 per cent pay. But some fear a battle with government workers is brewing that could paralyze basic services.

Spend some time scanning public sector collective agreements, and you start to realize just how generous sick-day leaves can be. Consider the following:

• Professional employees in the government of Quebec earn 12 sick days per year and can use them for early retirement or cash them out on retirement.

• City of Niagara Falls workers get 20 sick days per year; 18 per year can be carried over for a cash payout at retirement (up to a maximum half-year’s salary).

• Employees of Ontario’s Workplace Insurance and Safety Board can convert five of nine annual “wellness days” to vacation time, and earn a cash payout on retirement worth 50 per cent of unused sick days to a maximum of a half year’s salary.

• Calgary schoolteachers can be awarded up to 90 calendar sick days per year. Given how prevalent sick-day perks are in the public sector, it shouldn’t be a surprise that predominantly government towns have the highest overall rates of worker absenteeism in the country—in B.C.’s capital, Victoria, 11 days are lost to sickness in a year, while Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa and home to many federal offices, the average is 12 days. (By comparison, in Guelph, Ont., Calgary and Toronto, the average worker books off around seven days.)

• New Brunswick government employees get 15 sick days per year; 240 can be carried over.

Now many Canadian cities are waking up to the financial shock of these lavish promises. A new audit of Calgary Transit found that in 2011, bus drivers called in sick an average of 15 times per year. That also meant other drivers had to work extra hours, leaving the city with a $9-million bill for overtime. In Toronto, the city’s sick-leave liability totals $490 million. The liability for firefighters alone in Winnipeg—where, as in many municipalities, firefighters cash out banked sick leave on retirement—is $27 million.

But it is in the federal government where the sick-day culture has become most deeply entrenched, and where the damage appears greatest.

At the federal level, where 19,000 civil servants phone in sick every day, the sick-leave liability has ballooned to $5 billion. The average federal civil servant now claims 18.2 sick days per year, roughly trebling the private sector average of 6.7 days, giving federal government workers the highest rates of absenteeism in the country.

And as Treasury Board President Tony Clement has noted, the closer they get to retirement, the sicker they seem to get. Retiring employees used an average of 45 sick days before retiring in 2009-10—two full months off work.

With the federal rate so out of scale, the Harper government just announced plans to crack down on “exceedingly” high absenteeism among civil servants. Reforms would focus on getting sick and injured civil servants back to work faster, by introducing a short-term disability program. And Ottawa hopes to reduce from 15 to as few as five the number of unused sick days civil servants can carry over. “Age-old entitlements like these,” says Clement, “serve as a tax on Canadians.”

The prospect of losing sick leave has created uproar among civil servants, raising the spectre of labour unrest as collective agreements begin expiring in the next year. “We are not interested in trading off sick leave. It is not going to happen,” said Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the largest union representing civil servants. “We are not trading, it, selling it, swapping it or giving it away.” If unions negotiating contracts dig in their heels, the Harper government could impose changes through legislation, which could spur labour unrest.

Much of what drives public sector angst is the stubborn belief that the private sector is doing far better. At one point, that argument may have been valid. As recently as 1991, public sector workers lagged the private sector in pay by an estimated eight per cent. Until the 1960s, few had collective bargaining rights. None could strike. So to make up for the lower pay, government workers were granted better benefits—better pensions, better leave time, and other perks, such as sick-day banks.

There has been a complete reversal in the decades since. While union membership has collapsed in the private sector, Canada’s public sector unions grew in strength and power. That helped them negotiate big pay increases. In April, when the Fraser Institute published a comparison of public and private sector wages, the conservative think tank found public sector workers receive double-digit premiums over those doing the same job outside government. In Ontario, government workers now earn 14 per cent more than their private sector counterparts.

Those gains matter little to government workers as their bosses tackle chronic absenteeism. It’s a battle familiar to Andrew Graham, who spent three decades in the public sector before moving to Queen’s University to teach public sector management. The system is “designed to resist the capacity to manage,” says Graham, a former warden at Kingston Penitentiary who recalls being slapped with union grievances—and even once a human rights complaint—after challenging employees about their absences. Workers, Graham says, were pressured by peers to maximize sick time to inflate overtime needs. Abuse was widespread. “A significant amount of sick leave occurred the day before and after [scheduled] leave,” he recalls. “If someone had three days off starting Friday, you could predict they’d be sick on Tuesday and Thursday.” The system is “designed to invite abuse” and managers have no recourse. “Government,” he adds, “has created a monster.”

Business representatives agree. “PSAC claims the Harper government has cut federal departments to the bone,” says Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, “but how many jobs could be saved if civil servants weren’t taking almost four weeks’ sick leave every year?”

Unions have explanations for the epidemic of absenteeism: By removing their ability to cash out unused sick leave, teachers have been “discouraged from showing up for work,” says Terry Hamilton, president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation. PSAC claims the federal workplace has grown “poisonous.” Benson says civil servants simply want to be treated with “dignity and respect.”

But critics argue taxpayers deserve the same courtesy. At the very least, that means going to work when you’re well—even when you’ve still got two sick days in the bank and there isn’t a cloud in the sky.


The sick day scam

  1. I run my own business. A sick day for me is when I throw up after reading these statistics.

    • Well said!

    • Exactly! Because they’re so slipshod even someone who’s never studied stats can see how awful they are. Gaping holes throughout!

    • Self-employment is a choice. It has pros and cons, just like anything else. Like choosing to work for the public has pros and cons. Or choosing between companies in the private sector.

    • I work for the govenment and get 18 holiday days plu 18 EDO’s which are pretty much the sam as holiday days. Plus an additional 10 sick days. One could say that there are enough paid vacation to not need paid sick days. But others would say it is their entitlement.

      • i work for the government and get 6 sick days not bankable. No EDO whatever they are.

  2. I smell the Fraser Institute….

    • No, you smell disinfectant – and its making the left HOWL.

    • Facts are so inconvenient to the left. Since when has Macleans Magazine had any affiliation with the Fraser Institute? An honest socialist should demand more from those that serve the masses. 18 plus sick days a year in addition to generous benefits, pensions, holidays, and other forms of accepted absenteeism is simply an abuse of the system and taxpayers.

  3. The problem began decades ago when spineless senior bureaucrats (probably at the prompting of the government of the day wanting labor peace) agreed to these provisions in lieu of larger pay increases. Then the civil service got the pay increases in subsequent negotiations. Being human, the civil servants at whatever level of government don’t want to be forced to accept roll-backs to pay and benefits they’ve been told they’re entitled to. Now we’re all (in one way or another) going to feel some pain because of the expedient decisions of the past.

    • I agree, this was a simple wedge tactic to increase benefits for public employees over many years.

      I also find it amazing at the number of people who will post to this board DEFENDING the rampant abuse of sick leave.

      Consider all the senate scandals, all the bribery and corruption that the left attributes to Harper. Now consider when Harper attempts to control at least one major form of gov’t corruption, NOW we see every leftie in Canada coming to the defence of the public servants, in fact agreeing that certain types of corruption are OK.

      Utter leftie hypocrisy, but then again lefties are nothing if not hypocrites!

      • “gov’t corruption”? Where was the corruption? Are you in possession of a dictionary? The Wall street movers and shakers who engineered the recent financial meltdown only to continue collecting year end bonuses were corrupt — but a civil servant who is working under a collective agreement?

        • Corruption comes in many forms.

          Yes, a government employee abusing sick leave is corruption.

          Don’t worry – I hold bankers, lawyers, and policians in as high a regard as what I flush down the toilet. You won’t see me defending corruption there either.

          • Frenchie77 posted that above

          • OK — have to agree, but as a former federal civil servant I can attest that the majority do not abuse the sick leave provision. I personally left 6 months plus of unused sick days behind when I retired ( no cash out provisions unlike some other civil servants like teachers).

          • I agree with you Logicfan1. I recently left the public service with just over 6 months of sick leave remaining also, despite having to use 3 weeks at once when I was extremely ill. They never seem to talk about people like us.

          • Well, unfortunately people don’t usually get a slap on the back for doing their job and not giving in to the ‘easy way’.

            As always, it is the bad ones that make the news.

  4. I work for public service. I get a max of 15 days for sick of which I took 1.5 this year. How did they get the 18.2???? Yes my days accumulate but when I retire, I loose them. I am ok with that. In my office, the two people retiring are doing so with over 200 days unused (they won’t get paid for them). They are just glad they never got a devastating disease and thus did not need to use them. How is that bad? Isn’t that better? Also, when I take a day off (sick or vacation); I come back to twice the work load and still have to do it. No one gets hired or gets overtime to cover for me. So where is the money loss there??? This article seems very one sided.

    • From what I can see, the inflated 18+ day amount must come from those burning their days to reach the massive chasm (13 weeks or so?) to get long term sick leave due to a serious illness (I know I’ve been saving mine up, heck that was the first thing my compensation advisor told me… “better save for that 13 week bridge!”)
      This is not an epidemic of healthy people taking friday sick days in the summer…this is entirely OLD PEOPLE with 100’s of days of sick leave built up over there career working into their 60’s, then getting sick and then burning all of their days before they retire.
      *edit… I’m speaking in terms of the federal government only

    • You know what bothers me the most about this? People always think the public service is full of lazy slackers and they must be taking sick days for no reason. But let’s be realistic, there are lots of lazy slackers in the private sector (more on that in a moment). The other thing that gets to me is what do people think the result of damaging morale and creating a negative work environment will be? People call in sick more, they show up late, they disengage and some deal with serious psychological issues. Which if I recall, psychological ailments are still ailments.

      I’ve worked in the private sector my whole life and wow…I have continually seen the kind of laziness that would light people up if it was public money. But get this, private business still get their money from the public. We just feel better about it because we think we have choice. I spent a few years at a big telecom company and some time at a big bank….the waste in telecom in particular made me sick.

      Sick day scam? Wake up. If anything the world needs to wake up to the fact that productivity increases when people take the necessary time to recover from physical and psychological illness. That includes recovering from excessive stress, which many in the private sector pretend to work through because they get treated like criminals for taking a sick day. Being physically present at work is not the same as being productive at work.

    • I believe in unions, but the abuse by teachers is crazy. I have multiple teachers in the family in BC, and their many colleagues, and EVERY SINGLE ONE uses EVERY SINGLE ONE of her sick days every single year. When this article claims “some teachers have taken to treating their sick and personal leave as an additional three weeks of vacation time”, I just say, “Oh honey, that boat sailed years ago!” They also vacation on every Professional Development Day.
      My proposed solutions:
      1) Actual note from doctor if more than 3 days sick
      2) Actual receipt from course, seminar, or training for every PED Day taken

      • Physicians charge for sick notes…about $20.00 a note. When departments have 90,000 employees like the one I work for (Alberta Health Services), that is a lot of money to put out for sick notes. There is an agreement with the unions that if the boss asks for a sick note, the employer pays.
        We have terrible problems with morale. At one point, only 25% of people employed by AHS were happy in their jobs (typically you can expect 80% to be happy). When people aren’t happy, they are stressed and they don’t feel appreciated, they tend to not feel much loyalty to the work place.

        • True; stress manifests itself in various forms of illness. And when you look at the stress federal civil servants have been under due to all the cutbacks the CPC is implementing, the combination of job insecurity and added work from the displaced staff are prime stressors. It wouldn’t take a genius to predict increased absenteeism as a result of the government’s job slashing.
          That said, there is also a percentage who milk it to the max in both sectors – but the benefits are so much richer, on average, in the public sector that I suspect those milkers disproportionately skew the numbers.

        • But they feel loyalty in picking up their pay check!

          • I know you feel smug in making a pithy comment but if you had any idea about what actually occurred, I don’t think you would be proud of yourself for doing so. You can take away long-service awards; you can make pronouncements that there are “too many educated people in the hospitals”; you can announce that nurses are taking too many breaks and you can threaten staff with discipline or termination if they say anything negative about the company OR refuse to report on co-workers who say anything negative BUT you cannot force people to be loyal when you are treating them like dirt. I heard a story about an executive who demanded that his secretary serve him coffee in a china cup every morning. She had one of her co-workers spit in it each day. You can chose to treat people like dirt but don’t think they will accept it graciously.

    • That’s the way it should be. Many government workers are not so conscientious though. I’ve worked in both environments and found a much greater sense of entitlement in the public sector.
      That said, I do wonder if the gap may not be somewhat skewed because of the way businesses structure their sick leave and the way they report it. For example, the company I work for allows only seven sick days per year. Need more? Well, if you have more than five consecututive days and a medical report, you may qualify for short-term disability.There’s also long-term disability. Many government positions have t cover at least the short term disability with banked sick days. Do the “sick day” stats for the private sector include any STD or LTD claims that public employees must cover with their sick days?
      Also, with only seven sick days, if someone uses up all their days but doesn’t qualify for STD, then they have to take vacation days, unpaid days or make up the time. None of those days would enter any official tracking of sick days. So the true number of sick days goes underreported.
      So while there is a significant percentage of public sector employees that milk the system, the gap between public and private sectors may not be as big as it seems.

  5. I wish some more analysis would be applied to these reports. For example, average sick days taken are a misleading statistic because the sick days tend to used disproportionately by older, sicker employees. We used to say we were saving our sick days for the “big-one”, that is we were expecting the banked sick days to serve as insurance for the diseases of old age. It must be axiomatic that sick leave is taken more often by public sector (or unionized) workers than by others because the others if they have good employment contracts may be using other disability insurance. Do people know that there is no severance pay for Ontario teachers who retire? Where it exists, there is a purpose in allowing some value to accrue for unused sick-days, that is to encourage attendance. The provision used to be common in collective agreements and in previous decades the value of unused sick days was often scaled back in contracts to some fraction for example, 1/2 or 1/3 to reduce the liability while maintaining the incentive.

  6. I’m a little confused – if federal public sector employees get 15 days a year, and on average use 18.2, how are they banking sick days? Moreover, sick days are not considered to be nor presented to employees as a perk – you’re supposed to use them when/if you are sick – but they are being presented as a perk in this article, which is biased journalism.

    • Exactly. They’re ignoring the fact that a guy who’s worked 10 years and then gets cancer, has to use all his accumulated sick days before he can apply for the government disability insurance.
      That means he would claim as much as 150 days in one go, before he’d be allowed to even claim the insurance.
      Has a huge affect on the stats.

      • i.e. the ageing of the population and the way the public sector benefits were set up may be skewing the numbers because chronic illness that would be covered by STD or even LTD plans in the public sector are at least partially covered with extended use of regular sick days for public sector workers.
        They may only earn 15 days per year, but because they have so many banked from when they were young & healthy, many end up using more than they earn.

      • Exactly.

  7. Sponsored content from the office of T. Clement.
    Interested public service volunteers may use sick
    time to help re-paint gazebos in the Muskoka Region.
    Cuz yer gummint cares.

  8. I’ve worked for the federal government for 11 years and have never taken more then 3 sick days a year. The last three years, I haven’t taken a single sick day. No one I have ever worked with has taken 18 days over a year unless they have been hospitalized.

  9. “…The average federal civil servant now claims 18.2 sick days per year, roughly trebling the private sector average of 6.7 days, giving federal government workers the highest rates of absenteeism in the country…”

    Would a little honesty hurt here?

    This statistic includes people on disability. In the federal government you have to claim all your sick days that you banked, some times for 20 years, before you’re allowed to apply for disability.

    This means that someone who has 100s of sick days banked over the last 20 years has to claim them all in one go in order to go on disability.

    This has a huge effect on the statistics and explains a lot of the apparent difference between the federal public service and the private sector.

    Additionally, given that many private sector jobs don’t even offer sick days, the comparison is an utterly dishonest one from the get-go.

    I expect better from Macleans than parroting the government, but I guess maybe I am wrong to do so?

    • It’s this kind of thing that gives using stats a bad name. I am disappointed with Macleans.

  10. Wow, that’s pretty slipshod work with the numbers, Nancy. “An average of….” is way too unspecific to accurately analyze anything so complex. Did you know that the “average” human being has never heard of Macleans Magazine? Well then, it ought to be scrapped, right? So tell me, how is that public sector workers are banking so many sick days if they are taking so many sick days off? Which is it?!

  11. When the times were good for the private sector, no one was demanding to raise the public sector wages to match that of private sector. Now that the private sector is still in the Great Recession, the right-wing is whipping up resentment against the public sector. Behind all these diatribes against unions and public sector employees are business owners, right-wingers who see this as an opportunity to lower the benchmark of acceptable compensation and benefits for everyone. With a lower benchmark, business owners can pay their employees less and reap more profits. Also, business can demand more tax cuts. The outcome of these measures is to increase wealth for business owners at the expense of the middle and working class. This is a class war (business owners vs employees) …it has nothing to do with public vs private sector.

  12. Only elected official deserve vacation, sick time, and generous pensions.

    Crabs in a bucket.

  13. This isn’t a news article – it’s an opinion piece. Reading this I’m reminded of the Mark Twain quote “There are 3 kinds of lies…lies, damned lies & statistics”. Quoting an “average” of 18.2 days/yr is completely meaningless. There is a big difference between people on sick leave due to catastrophic illness & someone w/ “the weekend flu” (& how many of us haven’t EVER had that?). For this article to have any validity we need to know the mean number of days off – that’s where the truth lies.

  14. Nancy Macdonald, too bad you don’t work for the public sector. You would certainly find out that you can’t take sick leave to golf or whatever it is you propose in your article. As a person who had to use sick leave due to being sick one year, I can only say I was certainly glad that the banked time from the previous 10 years of working was there for me. It’s sad that the government of the day is treating it’s employees in this manner.

    • It’s true that people in situations like yours can use such benefits, but that is what long term disability is for. More often than not, people are abusing their sick days. I think it is only fair for the government to start addressing this issue, even though all the people who feel entitled do not like it.

  15. About twenty years ago I worked for a private industry and we had 10 sick leaves per year, the company would pay back the unused portion in December — just the thaught that we would be getting money back at the end of the year was an incentive to keep us at work, therefore the company would not have to hire contracting people… then I got a permanent position at the federal government, at first I was hardworking public servant until I realized that I was probably the only one so that’s when the party started, 15 sickleaves, 5 family related, 15 vacation leaves the first eight years then 20 until I reached 25 for a total of 45 days per year… then I applied for “compressed” and had every 2nd Friday off which granted me another 26 days and on top of the 11 statutory holidays this granted me a total of 82 days off every year… shame on me.

  16. This is why the whole idea of cashing out sick days at retirement was introduced in the first place. It incentivizes people to only take sick days when they need them. Having sick days that are lost each year incentivizes people to use them more frequently. Cashing out sick days at the end of your career will probably actually save money over the alternative–in the case of teachers, for example, when a teacher takes a sick day, then the board has to pay not only the teacher’s salary, but also that of a supply teacher. Effectively, that day costs twice as much. If instead those sick days were cashed out at 1/3 pay at the end of the teacher’s tenure, the board would be getting a comparatively good deal for every unused sick day.

    What is being seen here is exactly what you would expect to see.

    • However, if the teachers were being Professional, they would teach students like they are paid well to do, and not sack off on nice days.

      Truth: I am a long retired teacher. Never did take off a day without staying in bed. Guess times have changed.

  17. Where are the stats for the attendance of MPs and Senators?
    Oh yeah, and where is the missing $3,000,000,000 (that’s 3 thousand million dollars) of taxpayers’ money??????……..
    I would like to know in the name of transparency, openness, and accountability.

  18. If 20% of any group is absent on the same day, it is fairly obvious that they attended the Duffy/Wallin school of public service.

  19. Don’t forget who gets stuck with the financial hit for this! We do via tax increase! Perhaps the board of ed needs to hire a doctor who can do home visits to validate that they are in fact sick and at home. Anyone caught being fraudulent should be fired!

  20. That’s what happens when you have one arm of the bureaucracy (senior management) negotiating with the other (public sector unions) – and not spending their own money.

  21. Wow….talk about a one sided article. Though there are two logical sides to every story, Mcleans seems to have forgotten one of them and jumped right on the public service employee bashing bandwagon which seems so popular these days.

    • Harper likes the non-union to attack unions instead of everybody attacking his 1% puppet oil masters.


  22. I want to explore a hypothetical situation on the subject of teachers and their vacation, as it relates to sick days. Perhaps if teachers were given a few vacation day allowances (at a day of their choosing) throughout the school calendar year and less sick day allowances perhaps they would use those vacation days appropriately and not rely on the sick days as much.

    If a teacher has summers off we consider this is their vacation, but keep in mind the summer vacation is UNpaid (yes, some teachers may choose to have their 10 work-month payments spread out over 12 months into smaller payments.) So, you could actually assume that a teacher works 10 months in a year, and of that time their vacation is pre-determined (Christmas and Spring Break.) While this is an amazing perk to have those weeks off paid, a teacher cannot just take off random vacation days throughout the 10-month school calendar year. A day off, not using a sick day, would be considered an UNpaid leave of absence day and must be pre-approved by the administrators for specific major events such as funerals, graduation, wedding, doctor appointment. From the local districts in my area there is no such day where a teacher can take a vacation day for something like their child’s dance recital or to visit out-of-town family other than the pre-determined vacation at Christmas and Spring Break. I have heard of such things as wellness days and family days but they are not in our local school districts, that Im aware of.

  23. First, the private sector statistics are clearly not counting unpaid days off work for illness. The federal public service tracks leave days for people who aren’t on the payroll because they are on EI (sick, paternity, maternity) or long term disability. Those days are then averaged in to the total sick leave days taken.

    Anyone with sense could see that the claims made by the Conservatives are illogical. First, they claim there is a contingent liability which means that banked sick leave has that dollar value. However, banked sick leave is not payable upon leaving the public service. Second, they claim that 18.2 days are being used per employee but the yearly maximum accumulation is 15. So, there should be a deficit of 3.2 days and the government would be saving salary dollars. They don’t hire replacement employees and the salary dollars revert back to the Centre at the end of the year.

    These two claims cannot co-exist.

    As for ‘retirees’ taking 45 sick days prior to retirement, I say baloney. So called ‘retirees’ are people who go off on disability and don’t return because they 1) died or 2) were forced into medical retirement or 3) have become injured and found not fit to return to work (Health Canada does that review).

    Did you know that public servants have to take leave if they participate in a staffing process for their own employer? Does that happen in the private sector? NO.

    This is a distraction set up by a party who thinks nothing of paying hundreds of thousands to Senators for illegitimate claims, paying PMO staff with taxpayer dollars (not the dollars allocated to parties) for partisan activities, advertising programs that don’t exist and putting up signs next to projects that were already funded prior to any ‘action plan’ and building gazebos and fake lakes near the “border”.

  24. The sick day abuse article is riddled with errors – specifically with reference to Federal Public Sector workers.
    Personally, I prefer when my co-workers do not come in to work when they are sick and spread their illness to me and others, unfortunately it is often the term/casual/student workers (who do not get paid sick days) who come in to work when sick.

    You reported that Treasury Board says federal government workers in the core public administration use an average of 18 sick leave days a year: 11.11 in paid and 6.85 in unpaid sick leave. But these numbers are just random averages and don’t accurately reflect what most federal government workers actually use. FACT: Most federal government workers are taking between 0 and 8 days in sick leave per year, not 18.

    Your purported government statistics doesn’t say, for example, that its average of 11.11 paid sick days is skewed by a small number of workers – like those in high-risk and high-stress workplaces such as correctional services – who need more time off because of the nature of their work. That number also includes workers with extended illnesses who have to use up sick leave credits before qualifying for long term disability. The government also doesn’t say that the average of 6.85 days in unpaid sick leave includes those who are on long term disability and those who are on EI while waiting for their long term disability to kick in. Treasury Board’s data shows that most “sick leave without pay” is used by employees who are off work for most of the year. 95% of federal workers don’t use any sick leave without pay.

    The majority of federal government workers don’t get replaced if they are off work for a few days. Most workers who are off sick have the work they missed waiting for them to catch up on when they return. So there is not a “new” cost on top of the salary being spent. Paid sick time is a part of what is spent on salaries. At best, it’s a measure of “lost productivity” representing the value of work that is delayed in being done.

    Our collective agreements give management all the tools they need to manage sick leave responsibly. All leave is authorized by supervisors/management. If a manager suspects/concerned that an employee is abusing sick leave they can ask for medical certificates. If a manager is concerned about an entire section’s sick leave, they can seek resolution through the joint union-management committee. If a manager thinks an employee has an absenteeism problem, they can interview the employee, address the issue through counseling and discussion, and engage in discipline if abuse is found to exist.

    So while the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), the country’s biggest lobby group for small/medium-sized private sector business owners, spends their members’ money attacking the federal PS (i.e. largely THEIR customers – the middle class)…what exactly has it done for those it represents in the private sector in terms of company pensions, better wages, health & safety, job security and benefits? Instead of elevating their members’ standard of living, they want to bring us down to minimum wage, or drain social service programs?

  25. So how did these sick days come into our world? Could it be because of the unions? Is it possible that they would actually rip off the people to show how brilliant they are? Are sick days a part of their image of helping the people fight those big, bad business leaders? Or how about the teachers? Poor, poor teachers. Just heard an idiot on Goldhawk say that it is the kids that cause “slapping face disease” which requires 11 sick days off – this would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Love those unions? Hey, anyone know where the kids of the union leaders attend schools? Surprise! Not with yours.

  26. Disgusting article. What are you, Tony Clement’s PR machine? Utterly one-sided and libelous. Your comment about “people who can’t do math” applies to yourself: through completely random chance, 1 in 5 sick days will be taken on Mondays. 2 in 5 will happen on Fridays and Mondays: MY GOD! That’s 40% of all sick days taken next to weekends! Scandal!
    Please learn math. Then learn how short-term disability works. Then learn how the public service is not private business and never should be.

  27. Being self employed is a wonderful thing. It makes you grow up as you have to be self responsible and there are consequences for messing up. For example: if you don’t look after your health, you end up sick and being sick costs you money, so you are motivated to take a proactive approach to your health by eating healthy foods and exercises and cultivating a positive approach to life. If you have a bad attitude you turn off your clients/customers so you learn fast to develop a healthy approach in any dealings with people. If you don’t learn how to budget, it affects your retirement, your vacation and your quality of life, so you learn how to handle money. There is no one to fall back on, so to mature and become self responsible. I love being self employed for that reason and it does bother me that those that work for some government jobs have a sense of entitlement and I see my very hard earned tax money going into this type of behaviour.

  28. I’ve worked for a private school for over 3 decades and at my first interview I inquired about the sick leave plan on the advice of a couple of friends who were in public education system. The Headmaster responded saying “Let’s see, if you’re sick you should be at home in bed and if you’re well you should be in front of your class – that sounds like a good plan… let’s go with that.” Teachers were rarely off and we covered our colleagues’ classes during our prep periods, if needed. Ten years ago they introduced 12 sick/personal days and now we have supply teachers in the school every day. Who is taking the the sick days… not those of us who are near the end of our careers – it’s the less experienced and mid-career teachers who have been given this sense of entitlement. BTW – we do not and never have had a union. This new plan came into effect when they hired a Director of Human Resources!

    • PS – the sick/personal days are not bankable… there is no “gratuity” upon retirement!

  29. As a Fed Employee I have used 7 or 8 sick days total in 10 years…..I think the article was written to give the people the impression that Civil Servants are lazy and abuse the system. A Conservatives con. I don’t even know a single colleague, who has ever used up the allowed 15 days a year, except in relation to a major health crisis. I cannot imagine how they can create a statistic proving we average 18.5 days per year.

    There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. This argument is all three.

    This article insults a lot of very hard working men and women.

    If certain groups are showing a high incidence of absenteeism then I suggest we look at the management structure

  30. It is a question of leadership – when the rank and file see the blatant abuses of the “entitled class” (managers, politicians from the municipal to the federal level, etc), they become disillusioned, cynical, and ultimately end up justifying their own actions by claiming “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”. Look at the premier of BC giving her insiders double-digit raises after telling the rank and file public sector workers they would have to beg for 1-2% cost of living increases (coming on the heels of 2 years of 0-0!). Public outcry forced her to reverse the decision (for now), but similar examples abound. In Richmond the mayor gave himself an 8% pay raise ( bringing the increase to 46% since 2006) claiming his salary had to reflect the cost of living and comparable salaries elsewhere. This reflects a larger trend in both the public and private sectors, where those on top reap the rewards while those below are required to “take a hit for the team”. For example, teachers in Vancouver live in the most expensive city in Canada yet are considerably underpaid compared to teachers in Alberta and Ontario. Calls for simple wage parity are howled down by MLAs who were more than happy to accept a 29% pay raise “to bring their salaries into line with provincial politicians in the rest of Canada.” The head of BC Ferries receives a salary almost 3 times larger than the salary of the admiral who heads up the U.S. Navy, but this is justified as necessary to “attract talent”. Senior managers and politicians in the provincial and municipal governments enjoy similarly generous salaries and benefits, all justified in the same manner. When you look at the feeding frenzy taking place at the top, can you blame the people at the bottom for taking a few scraps when they can? It is not right, but it is understandable, and if we want to change the culture of entitlement at the bottom we have to start the transformation at the top.

  31. Most teachers do not use sick days much. I have taken half a day in the past year. This is completely unacceptable – to distract from how public education is being robbed by government – with painting ALL teachers as slackers. Lies, damned lies, statistics. What’s sickening is the boring and ignorant teacher bashing. Save your middle class and your communities. Support public education. Don’t participate in your own demise by mindless bashing and chasing of red herrings. TEACHERS ARE NOT THE ONES DESTROYING YOUR SOCIETY.

    • You don’t appear to support your first sentence with facts. Whereas the article’s numbers are based on incontrovertible facts about absenteeism of teachers based on all teachers in the province, your sample group consists of one.
      You assert, again without factual support, that the government is robbing education when it appears from the article education is robbing the government.
      You suggest we will die if we explore information; linking our “demise” with daring to uphold the profession to scrutiny.
      You finish with all caps with a statement unrelated to the topic of sick days?

      If you are defending teacher absenteeism rates, you really need to make your case better.

  32. I have lived in Ottawa all my life and the Public Service ‘sick leave’ days have always been a joke. Civil Servants will take a day or two off at any given time for an extended holiday, lay around the house or just to sleep in. I have seen hundreds of these examples over the years and it’s s rip off to the Canadian taxpayer.
    Now the teachers, the city employees, any provincial or municipal employees and unionized employees cheat their employees and the taxpayers. It’s a joke.
    Ask a Dairy Farmer how many days he took off last year and the cows didn’t get milked.
    These public servants got nothing on the Greek Public Sector workers. They’re pathetic!!

  33. I work in the private sector in a non-unionized work force in a leading-edge high technology company. We have 0 sick days and 0 personal days. If we are sick, we can take two consecutive days off at full pay (it’s called “salary continuance”). Anything longer requires a doctor’s note and you’re on short term disability. Nothing is banked. Nothing carried forward. Yet somehow, the world keeps turning. I can understand that there would be resistance to rolling back a benefit that’s been enjoyed for decades. But from a tax-paying point of view, it seems these benefits have snow-balled into an unsustainable perk enjoyed by a few and the expense of everyone else.

  34. Only in the public sector could something like this happen.

  35. This is a major public health hazard and we should not take it lightly. Something must be done about it. It appears that the moment someone joins a public service union, their overall health starts deteriorating.
    The longer they are members of the union, the sicker they will become. The
    moment they leave the union, their health improves immediately. The answer
    should be obvious to everyone: in order to protect the overall health of our
    beloved public servants, we immediately have to dismantle and ban forever any
    and all public service unions. Every piece of evidence suggests that the overall
    health of our public servants will show a miraculous recovery.


  36. I work in a public sector and I see people abusing their sick days regularly. Here, people get 90% of their regular pay with unlimited sick days per year. I witness people regularly calling in sick on Mondays and Fridays, and around long weekends, especially when the weather outside is nice. We have to find someone to cover the shifts of these “sick people” and most of the time, we need to pay them overtime. The amount of money they spend on overtime and sick days are ridiculous. Something needs to be done because it is not fair to use taxpayer’s money so you can have a “sick” day off to enjoy the weather. It is immoral and unethical. I find it extremely disgusting that teachers are abusing sick days, when they are supposed to be educating our children.

  37. You simply can’t give that many sick days to an employee in their contract, and not expect them to use it, or bank it for a return. Simply find the balance point between costs incurred by sick days and costs incurred by having sick people at work, and there’s your ideal number of sicks days.

  38. I don’t buy it. 18.2 days per year on average? No way. Public Servants don’t earn that much sick leave in a year. This does not add up.

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