How many Canadian workers have access to paid sick leave?

Statistics Canada looks at trends over last 10 years, variations by age, education

How many Canadian workers have access to paid sick leave?

A lot of employees did not have access to paid sick leave (PSL) nearly three decades ago and, despite some changes, many are still left waiting for this benefit, according to a recent report from Statistics Canada (StatCan).

Roughly two-thirds of Canadian men (63.4 per cent) and women (65.1 per cent) have access to PSL in 2022. These numbers are up from 56.6 per cent and 54.8 per cent, respectively, in 1995.

“Not only is working while sick detrimental to the sick employee, it can also harm colleagues in the case of contagious illness,” said Samuel MacIsaac and René Morissette, with the Social Analysis and Modelling Division, Analytical Studies and Modelling Branch, at Statistics Canada, in their report.

“But, without access to PSL benefits, employees whose job cannot be done from home can be forced to choose between their health, and that of other employees, and forgoing earnings. While eligible Canadian employees have access to EI sickness benefits for longer-term illnesses, there remains substantial heterogeneity in access to short-term PSL.”

Ottawa started offering 10 days of paid sick leave to the federally regulated private sector in December 2022.

Who has access to PSL?

Access to PSL varies for different workers, according to StatCan’s report based on data from the 1995 Survey of Work Arrangements (SWA) and the Labour Force Survey (LFS) from 2020 to 2022.

When it comes to age groups, more older workers seem to have access to the benefit compared with younger workers:

Age groups

Percentage of men who have access to PSL in 2022

Percentage of women who have access to PSL in 2022

15 to 24

29.2 per cent

26.4 per cent

15 to 24 (excluding students)

39.8 per cent

41.8 per cent

25 to 34

66.3 per cent

69.5 per cent

35 to 44

71.5 per cent

74.8 per cent

45 to 54

72.4 per cent

75.6 per cent

55 to 64

67.5 per cent

66.7 per cent

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher-level education are also more likely to have access to PSL compared with their counterpart:

Level of education

Percentage of men who have access to PSL in 2022

Percentage of women who have access to PSL in 2022

High school education or less

46.2 per cent

43.2 per cent

Trades certificate or diploma

59.4 per cent

65.9 per cent

Some postsecondary education (PSE)

46.8 per cent

41.2 per cent

PSE below a bachelor's degree

68.3 per cent

67.9 per cent

Bachelor's degree or higher education

79.9 per cent

77.7 per cent

Among industries, workers in public administration (89.0 per cent), finance and insurance (86.5 per cent) and utilities (86.3 per cent) are the most likely to have access to PSL. 

Meanwhile, those least likely to have access to PSL work in accommodation and food services (18.8 per cent), gasoline stations (27.0 per cent) and grocery stores (37.2 per cent).

Access to PSL also differ based on race and tenure of workers, according to the Employee paid sick leave coverage in Canada, 1995 to 2022 report.

Why is there an inequality in paid sick leave?

According to Public Services and Procurement Canada, if you are a full-time employee with a work week of 37.5 hours, you earn sick leave at the rate of 9.375 hours each month for which you receive 75 hours pay. Sick leave is prorated if you are a part-time employee.

And there seems to be a desire among employers to provide this benefit to workers. In 2021, a group of more than 30 employers from Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia and Quebec sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express their support for 10 paid sick days.

So why do a lot of workers still have no access to PSL? 

“For the vast majority of Canadians not working in federally regulated industries, short-term sick leave regulation is under provincial jurisdiction,” said MacIsaac and Morissette.

However, from 1995 to 2022, only Prince Edward Island (one day in 2010), Quebec (two days in 2019) and British Columbia (five days in 2022) mandated that short-term PSL be provided by employers to eligible employees. 

“Except for temporary COVID-19-specific paid leave in certain provinces, only these three provinces have mandated permanent PSL,” they said.

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