With the coronavirus pandemic exposing gaps in sickness and caregiving leave provisions across Canada, the Institute for Research on Public Policy is calling for permanent reforms to provide access to short-term paid and protected leaves for all employees.

In the study, co-authors Eric Tucker, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, and Leah Vosko, a professor in the department of politics at York University, recommended that workers be eligible for 15 days of paid leave to cover both sickness and caregiving needs, which would bring Canada in line with its international peers.

“This is very much in keeping with employment standards seen elsewhere around the world,” said Vosko, in a press release. “In fact, Canada is a laggard in this regard; we have a lot of catching up to do. Prior to COVID, less than half of workers in Canada had access to employer-provided paid and protected leaves.”

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As was demonstrated during the pandemic, employees often decide not to take time off because of inadequate leave protection and benefits, which can have major repercussions for employees, their employers and society at large, noted the study. In addition, neglecting one’s health can lead to longer absences, more serious problems and lower workplace productivity.

The study also found that women are disproportionately affected by inadequate paid sickness and caregiving leaves — they’re 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,” said Tucker, noting 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.”

Read: Head to head: Should provincial governments require employers to provide minimum paid sick leave?