The Changing Times for Sick Time


In the multitude of challenges facing employers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic comes the recognition that there is no ‘normal’ anymore. Existing business practices, such as the demand for a medical note from a doctor to justify an employee’s illness, are just not sustainable. When the public health authorities require that citizens stay at home and self-isolate if they have any symptoms of illness, the formality of requesting a doctor’s note seems ridiculous. As Human Resources professionals, we need to support and implement the changes for improved compensation practices.

Letting go of the old ways does not come quickly enough for some employers. The Tim Hortons fast-food chain made the news again for their unfortunate choices in compensation practices related to sick leave. As noted in this article, employees of the franchise continued to be required to provide a medical note to justify taking an unpaid sick leave day. After taking five days of unpaid sick leave, the employee would be fired. Needless to say, there was significant negative backlash when this practice hit the news and social media outlets.

It seems that the negative reaction pushed this particular employer into changing their sick leave and compensation practices. Five days after the first news article, the Tim Hortons franchise also announced a commitment of $40 million “to support employees” who are affected by COVID-19. As noted in this article, the company will pay employees who have the virus or are quarantined “up to 14 days.” The clear message from this updated policy was one of public safety, support, and recognition of the need for change in these unprecedented times.

Unfortunately, the journey on this new road did not last very long until once again, one of the franchise stores in Alberta hit the negative news cycle with this post. Fortunately, the note from the franchise owner was removed. The commitment to Tim Hortons’s new policy, including the removal of the requirement for sick notes, was re-posted in the public domain.

Change is hard. Forced change is even harder. These examples show how important it is to leave the old road behind us. Once this crisis is over, we must make the choice to stay on the new road as it leads to a safer, more sustainable future for us all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, how can a fast-food franchise implement improved compensation practices related to attendance management?
  2. Do you think the practice of termination after five unpaid sick days is fair? Explain your rationale.
  3. What types of HR-related supports should be in place for any fast-food franchise owner?

Sick of Sick Notes


Everybody gets sick. Think about the last time you were sick. Perhaps you had a nasty cold or the flu which included fever, body chills, sweating, aches, pains, coughing, and a number of emissions from various body parts. Perhaps you were so sick that you could not go to work and you needed to stay home to rest and recover.

Instead of staying at home in bed, however, you had to go to your doctor’s office. Unable to get a same-day appointment with your doctor, you then had to go to your local walk-in clinic or to the hospital and wait for service in an already busy health-care space. You had to do all of this not because you needed treatment, but because your employer needed a note from a doctor verifying that you were actually ill and not able to go to work.

It seems a ridiculous scenario.

Unfortunately, it is one that plays out every day in workplaces and health-care settings across the country. Rather than focusing on priority patients who need urgent medical care and assistance, the employer requirement for doctor’s notes from employees, who are legitimately ill, clogs up an already overloaded health care system for no apparent purpose.

Why does this happen? A recent article published by Maclean’s magazine explores this question and provides some not very comforting responses.

Click here to read the Maclean’s article.

A more practical and responsible approach to dealing with employee illness and absence can be found through the design and implementation of a comprehensive attendance management program (AMP). An AMP forms part of an overall compensation strategy. It provides for both indirect and direct pay options that acknowledge the need for employees to be absent from work and promotes attendance at work in a proactive manner.

The AMP provides context and content for a reasonable workplace approach to the management of employee attendance and absenteeism. For example, instead of focusing on the requirement for sick notes from employees for every absence due to illness from work, an AMP would provide a layered approach, defining when, how and for what purpose sick notes are required. Most AMP’s outline the requirement for verification of absences from employees in the case of ‘patterned absenteeism’, rather than the single incident focus as noted in our sick note scenario.

‘The 5 Key Elements of an Attendance Management Program (AMP)’ provides us with a legal insight into the components of this type of program along with a rationale for implementing it in the workplace.

Click here to read about the insights for an AMP.

With clear compliance requirements, a good AMP lets us let go of the need for unnecessary sick notes. It gives us time and a plan that moves towards a healthy, wellness-focused approach in supporting employee attendance at work.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As an HR practitioner, what will you include in an Attendance Management Program regarding timing and requests for sick notes from employees? Explain your rationale.
  2. What types of employee sick-time costings would you include in the design of and budgeting for an indirect pay plan?
  3. Instead forcing employees to use ‘sick days’ for non-illness related absences, what other types of paid or unpaid leaves from work would you put into place for employees through an Attendance Management Program?