Have your say: Should employers offer a climate-related leave policy?

Following recent hurricanes in the United States, employers are confronting absences caused by extreme weather conditions by considering a climate-related policy that allows employees to take paid leave for days off due to a natural disaster.

New York-based software company Fog Creek Software has formalized a plan. It’s allowing employees to take up to five days paid leave due to extreme weather. And employees are entitled to more days if local officials declare a state of emergency.

Read: What is the role of benefits programs in supporting Fort McMurray victims?

“What we found during the recent storms . . . was that, when our team members were forced to evacuate, we didn’t have a policy to support them, . . .” wrote Anil Dash, chief executive officer of Fog Creek, in a post on LinkedIn. “But as a CEO, I never want to be having to tell an employee, ‘Trust me, it’ll be OK,’ because taking care of employees means putting down our commitments to them and their families — in writing.

“The simple conclusion is that if we’re not committing to taking care of our employees during extreme weather events, we’re not fulfilling our responsibilities to our team.”

Those types of climate leave policies don’t formally exist in Canada, but that doesn’t mean employees don’t or can’t get paid for these absences, says Yafa Sakkejha, general manager at Beneplan Inc. She notes that Ontario’s Employment Standards Act will be updated in 2018 to include 10 personal emergency leave days each year, including two paid personal emergency leave days. “From our vantage point, an employee could potentially use those interchangeably,” she says.

Furthermore, even with so many different kinds of leaves — sick days, compassionate leave, personal days — an employer can choose to pay those or simply protect an employee’s job so that when he or she returns from climate leave, the job is waiting.

Read: Ontario’s response to workplace review includes paid personal leave

But not every company will want to implement a formal policy. “Even though [employers] have short-term disability and all these formal policies, they also have informal policies,” she says. “Canadian employers are generally quite generous. They’re compassionate people, and their hearts do bleed when they see employees in emergency situations.”

Consider one car dealership in Windsor, Ont. “On Fridays, their employees pay $10 when they wear jeans, so that if somebody does need to take time off work, they pay money from the jeans fund,” says Sakkejha.

For Beneplan’s employer clients, Sakkejha says they’d likely balk if they had to implement a formal climate-related plan. “They’re not going to be inclined to come up with an official policy,” she says.  “[Employers] just don’t want to be held to something and have to budget for it.”

Given the changing environment, are formal climate leave policies the best way to support employees during difficult times or is it unnecessary to add another type of leave? Have your say in our weekly online poll here.

Read: A third of U.S. employers offer paid-time-off programs: survey

As for last week’s survey, which asked whether non-smokers should get extra vacation time. Two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents said yes, it’s a great way to encourage better habits and 36 per cent said n