sick days in Ontario explained

Sick Days in Ontario Explained

In Ontario, sick days have been a significant topic for discussion. Needing to take time off work due to illness or injury can be stressful for both employees and employers. Many employees are worried about getting sick and what it will mean for their ongoing employment. At the same time, employers may not fully understand employees’ legal rights to sick days or the employers’ rights to inquire about the reasons for an employee’s sick time off. 

Requesting and approving sick days can be overwhelming for both employees and employers. What kind of information do employees need to provide to employers? What type of information can the employer request the employee produce? How much notice needs to be provided? 

This article will explain what you need to know about sick days in Ontario, including the differences between unpaid and paid sick days. Additionally, it will discuss the obligations of both employees and employers regarding sick days and why it is a good idea to get legal advice to understand each party’s rights and responsibilities.

Employees in Ontario are legally entitled to take time off work to recover from illness or injury, with the Employment Standards Act providing up to 3 unpaid sick days per year for those who have worked at least 2 consecutive weeks for an employer.

Understanding Sick Days and Sick Leave in Ontario

Knowing your rights and obligations concerning sick leave is essential for both employees and employers in Ontario. Whether you’re addressing sick leave challenges or aiming to comprehend your entitlements and duties, a consultation with Achkar Law can offer the precise guidance and advice you need. Ensure you’re informed about sick days and sick leave policies to foster a supportive workplace environment.

What Are Sick Days in Ontario?

Employees are legally entitled to take time off work to recover from illness or injury or deal with a medical emergency. Pursuant to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”), an employee who has worked for an employer for at least 2 consecutive weeks is entitled to an unpaid leave of absence or up to 3 unpaid sick days per year. These statutory entitlements will not carry over to the following year. 

This means employers subject to the ESA are not legally obligated to provide paid sick days or leave to employees. However, employers must allow employees to take at least 3 unpaid days off to recover from illness or injury.  

In addition to unpaid sick days, employees may be eligible for paid sick days depending on their employer’s sick leave policies. Many employers also offer benefits plans through third-party insurers to provide sick or injured employees financial support during an otherwise unpaid sick leave through short-term and long-term disability benefits. 

Other options may be available if their employer does not offer paid sick days or the employee has used up all their paid sick days. For example, the Canadian government may provide eligible sick employees income replacement through the Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits program.

Are Paid Sick Days Mandatory in Ontario?

Although not required, it is beneficial if employers provide paid sick days to employees. Providing paid sick days can help employees focus on recovery and allows them to avoid coming to work while sick and potentially spreading illness. Healthy employees are typically more productive, and a seasonal infectious disease spreading in the workplace can disrupt operations (with the most obvious examples being the flu and COVID-19). 

If an employee intends to take time off for reasons relating to injury or illness they will need to notify their employer as soon as reasonably possible. Employers may ask an employee for reasonable proof of illness or injury. The proof of illness only needs to provide relevant medical information justifying the absence. An employer cannot demand more information about the illness than reasonably required in any circumstance.  

Proof can be in the form of a simple note from a medical professional. Employers are only entitled to information including, but not limited to:  

  • The length of time the employee will reasonably need to recover;
  • Any accommodations that may be necessary when the employee returns to work; and/or 
  • If the employee has been seen in person by a medical professional.

Employers should not ask for confidential details about the employee’s medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment. Refusing an employee’s sick time off if they refuse to provide unnecessary medical information can create significant legal risks for employers. 

Employees have the option of complaining to the Ministry of Labour about an employer’s refusal to allow them to take needed sick leave. An employer refusing to allow an employee to go on a temporary sick leave and/or punishing them for taking time off work related to illness may be liable for damages flowing from discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”). 

Can Employers Ask for a Doctor’s Note in Ontario?

Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA), your employer can request a doctor’s note from a registered health practitioner if the request is reasonable.

The reasonableness of the request depends on:

  • The duration of the absence;
  • Whether there’s a pattern of absences;
  • The availability of medical evidence;
  • The cost of the requested medical evidence

The requested medical information should be:

  • Related to the operation of the workplace and your job duties;
  • Relevant to the period of the related absence.

Conclusion

Understanding the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers when it comes to sick days in the workplace can be overwhelming. All employees are guaranteed at least 3 unpaid days off work for illnesses, injuries, or medical emergencies. 

Employers can ask for proof of the illness and/or injury but should not ask for unnecessary confidential details regarding the employee’s medical condition. It is in the employer’s best interest to offer paid leaves to their employees if reasonably possible to promote a healthier and safer workplace. Additionally, it has the added benefit of attracting and retaining employees.

An employer’s refusal or mistreatment towards an employee relating to their sick leave request can result in legal liability. The employee may be able to file complaints relating to an employer’s conduct relating to their illness or injury through the Ministry of Labour and potentially the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. 

Seeking legal advice can be beneficial for both employees and employers to ensure both parties’ rights are respected and legal risks are minimized. You can learn more about an employer’s obligations to sick employees at the links for related topics below. 

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Understanding Sick Days and Sick Leave in Ontario

Knowing your rights and obligations concerning sick leave is essential for both employees and employers in Ontario. Whether you’re addressing sick leave challenges or aiming to comprehend your entitlements and duties, a consultation with Achkar Law can offer the precise guidance and advice you need. Ensure you’re informed about sick days and sick leave policies to foster a supportive workplace environment.