Have your say: Are new sick day entitlements a concern for employers?

Following in the footsteps of other Canadian provinces, Quebec has introduced a bill to amend its labour laws that includes changes to sick leave entitlements.

Currently, employees in Quebec can take to up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave annually due to sickness, organ or tissue donation, an accident, domestic violence or a criminal offence. The latest proposals include two paid sick days for an employee with three months of uninterrupted service with an employer.

Elsewhere in Canada, Alberta recently added a new five-day, unpaid leave for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member to its Employment Standards Code. In January, Ontario introduced 10 days of job-protected personal emergency leave. The changes provide for paid leave for the first two days.

Read: What do Canadian provinces offer around sick, emergency leave?

There’s no formal indication of when the Quebec changes will take effect, says François Parent, an associate partner with Aon Hewitt’s legal consulting team in Montreal.

Parent notes the plan was to have something in place by June. “That was the game plan; however, we know that, considering some of the topics involved . . . there will be some public consultations on this bill. We still don’t know exactly when it will happen, but . . . we are pretty sure that many unions and other people will want to get involved in these consultations,” he says.

Parent notes there will be additional costs related to the paid sick days. “So yes, for small businesses, I think this is [an] additional cost and for them. It’s probably much more important than big businesses,” noting Quebec is also changing the rules around vacation entitlements. “Employees will be entitled to three weeks of annual leave after three years uninterrupted service, while currently it is after five. Again, you are talking about additional money.”

The new bill also adds more details to the Quebec government’s plan to eliminate disparity clauses in pension and benefits plans. The bill proposes adding the following paragraph: “Any distinction made solely on the basis of a hiring date, in relation to pension plans or other employee benefits, that affects employees performing the same tasks in the same establishment is also prohibited.”

Read: Quebec employers concerned about province’s plan to eliminate pension disparities

Julien Ranger, a Montreal-based partner at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, notes the amendment won’t be retroactive, which will settle a significant concern from employer advocacy groups. “I believe there was some pretty intense lobbying efforts to get that concept off the table,” he says.

“I think employers are going to be happy because those who really wanted to close their plans have done it, so they will be happy. And those who haven’t closed it have made a commitment, but we don’t know how things are going to be in five or 10 years from now, and they might not mind at this particular time,” he adds.

With Quebec becoming the latest province to introduce changes to labour laws to boost protections around sick leave, is the quickly changing environment a concern for employers? Will so many changes in a short period of time mean significant costs for organizations and new challenges in managing a workforce or is paid sick leave overdue and not a big burden for businesses? The issue is the subject of this week’s online poll. Have your say here.

Read: Have your say: Is benefits fraud a widespread problem?

Last week’s poll question asked whether or not fraud is a widespread problem in employee benefits plans. The majority (63 per cent) of respondents said fraud is a growing problem that requires urgent action due to the need to ensure the sustainability of benefits plans. Some 14 per cent of respondents said it’s not a widespread problem, the majority of employees are honest and other issues such as rising usage and costs per claim are much bigger concerns. Another 23 per cent said there are issues with fraud but suggested the industry needs to be selective about how it addresses them.