THE BLOG

Bankable Sick Days for Government Employees Make Me Sick

10/18/2013 12:36 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

If you were just to look at the data, it would be reasonable to assume that working for the government is bad for your health. Here's some proof: government employees working for the province of Ontario took an average of 10.5 sick days in 2012. Compare that to just 5.8 sick days among people not working for the government in Ontario. If you work for the government of Ontario, you are 81 per cent more likely to book the day off than those not working for the government.

Black mould in government buildings? Lack of clean drinking water in government cafeterias? Of course not.

What can be causing this epidemic in government offices across Canada? As one bureaucrat calling into a talk-radio show in Victoria, B.C. put it; it's probably nothing more than a case of "long-weekenditis."

It's a long-standing joke that government employees tend to "get sick" right before a long-weekend or whenever they want an extra day off.

The trend exists at all levels of government, and all across the country. Federal government employees are ill most often, with 17.9 days of sick leave in 2012, while in comparison, people not working for the government nationally only took 6.7 sick days in the same year.

Perhaps it is taxpayers who foot the bill for this absenteeism who should be left feeling sick to their stomach.

Rather than placing a Health Canada warning on government paycheques, the provincial government should implement reforms to reduce the amount of sick days permitted, crack down on sick day abuse, and end the practice of "sick day bank" lump sum payouts at retirement.

Ontario PC MPP John O'Toole attempted to crack down on this practice, and introduced Bill 25: Sick Days are for Sick People Act back on March 6, 2013. The bill was defeated a few weeks later by Liberal and NDP members, who evidently disagree with this definition of sick days. This bill intended to put an end to compensating government workers for unused sick days, and require that workers provide sufficient evidence of actual illness when calling in sick.

A pervasive culture has grown throughout most government agencies where sick days are just another lucrative benefit to be exploited. Sick day banks, where unused sick days can be saved up and "cashed in" at retirement like a secondary severance are one of the most unreasonable perks.

While teachers fought a high-profile battle that ultimately resulted in the loss of much of their sick day banks, many other government workers still enjoy these banks. Both fire and police officers receive 18 sick days per year -- three-and-a-half-weeks, on top of vacation days -- all of which are bankable.

While accommodations ought to be made for people recovering from illnesses or tending to an ill loved-one, the antiquated notion of having bankable and accruing sick days has now been removed from most HR books. It's time the government woke up and caught up to realities of the real world.

Bankable sick days, virtually no limit on interchanging sick and vacation days, and massive abuse of a system designed to help those suffering with illnesses is shameful. These practices need to end. Ontario is broke; our province needs to make systemic changes to our public finances to address the structural deficit and balance our books. We simply cannot afford to be this generous with government employees. It isn't fair to taxpayers footing the bill.

Which Canadians Take The Most Sick Days?