I often get asked whether one has to cover sick days for personal caregivers or nannies. I usually have the same response: it depends.
What did you agree to when she first started working? Did you discuss sick days at the beginning of the employment relationship? This is a difficult topic, but it is important to think about it at the outset of the relationship.
In a previous blog post I wrote about whether a written employment agreement should be entered into when hiring a full-time caregiver or nanny to look after your child. It is probably a good idea to have something in writing to establish rules you can rely on later on. A simple letter can help avoid future hassles and misunderstandings. One issue I touched on in this blog post was whether you need to pay your nanny if she is away from work due to illness.
In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) does not oblige employers to pay employees for time off due to illness. The ESA does have provisions for "personal" and/or "emergency" leave which allow (under specific circumstances) employees to take personal or emergency leave to take care of family emergencies.
In such circumstances, the employee is permitted to ask (and indeed take the time off) without facing disciplinary consequences for having done so. However, even in such circumstances, employees are still not entitled to get paid. The exception to this rule is where a collective agreement or employment agreement confers greater rights upon the employee and entitles the employee to be paid for time off due to illness.
Personally, I think you should pay the person who looks after your children in your absence if she gets sick for a couple of days. Few things will sour your relationship more than refusing to cover her pay if she off sick for a day or two. If it really bothers you to pay her, you can ask her to make up the time and do some extra babysitting, but I am not really fan of this option. The optics are bad and the savings are few. Showing generosity encourages employee loyalty.
A couple of days is usually not a problem to cover for most families. However, what about a week or two? I think it is perfectly reasonable to say that you are prepared to cover a few days (choose a number you can live with) but that anything beyond that you will not cover.
Employees who require shorter term leaves due to illness may be eligible to collect EI benefits. If your nanny is having surgery or is going to be off for a few weeks, she may be eligible to collect EI. I recommend that she avail herself of the wide range of resources available through Service Canada and find out what income protection may be available.
This Blog is made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. No lawyer-client relationship is created by accessing or using this Blog. No warranty or guarantee is made as to the accuracy, currency or completeness of the material on this Blog.
About the Author: Marie-Helene Mayer is an experienced lawyer and mom familiar with the realities facing moms both at home and at work. Her blogs can be found on Her Magazine. Marie-Helene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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