A lot of leaves

As legislatures introduce more job-protected leaves, should employers be concerned – or is it just being fair and compassionate

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Managing the demands of work and personal life — without one affecting the other too much — has been a challenge workers have faced for a long time.

Often, if the pressure on a worker’s time and focus from one side becomes too much, it can be pretty stressful and it affects the other side. But recent trends have seen employers putting more effort into helping employees balance these demands, often as a way to attract and retain talent as work-life balance becomes more important to employees. Some of this effort has been voluntary, but it’s also been fuelled by more attention by lawmakers on this issue.

Many employers offer bereavement leave, sick days and personal days for employees, but in recent years Canadian jurisdictions have bolstered the leaves employees can take through employment standards legislation. Many jurisdictions now allow employees to take unpaid emergency leave while protecting their jobs.

A recent trend has seen some jurisdictions implement job-protected leave for workers who serve in the Canadian Forces reserves for training and deployment, as well as compassionate care leave to allow employees to tend to gravely ill relatives.

Ontario just introduced a bill that adds to that province’s list of leaves of absence — which already includes 10 days of emergency leave and up to eight weeks’ compassionate care leave to care for a seriously ill family member who is at risk of dying in the next 26 weeks.

These proposed amendments add more leaves to the list, including up to eight weeks of leave to care for a seriously ill family member who doesn’t have to be at risk of dying, up to 37 weeks to care for a critically ill child, up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave for employees with a missing child, and up to two years for those who have lost a child as a result of a crime.

The reasons for all these types of leave are worthwhile and could, in the long run, benefit employers. After all, an employee who is dealing with some of these issues in her personal life isn’t likely to be as focused and productive as she would be if everything was fine.

Sometimes people need to take time away from work to deal with things, and they could come back the better for it. But as the types of leave employers are required to grant increases in number, it could become a concern as it becomes more difficult to manage the workforce and productivity.

If an employee is on one of these leaves for a while — and the employer needs someone to do the work — it has to decide whether it needs to hire someone new or try to absorb the work into the existing staff. Is there a point where employees should have to figure out how to handle tough times at home while still doing their job? Or at least should they have to use some of their vacation allotment to take care of things?

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit www.employmentlawtoday.com for more information.

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