Storm days and hockey games top reasons for government sick days: Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Sick days were up the day Team Canada played Latvia in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Sick days were up the day Team Canada played Latvia in the 2014 Winter Olympics. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

HALIFAX- The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling for the Nova Scotia government to re-think its sick day policies after uncovering some unsettling patterns with how public servants take sick time. Through Freedom of Information requests the federation compiled a list of the top 15 sick days taken by government employees in 2013-14.

The federation then cross-referenced those days with events for that particular day. Two of the top days for sick calls followed major snow storms. The third highest day was February 19, 2014–the day Team Canada played Latvia in the Winter Olympics.

“I think that was the most surprising thing,” said Kevin Lacey, Canadian Taxpayers Federation Atlantic Director.

Lacey said when Canada played hockey during the Olympics on work days, sick calls were five to 12 per cent higher than the average for that year.

Government workers are entitled to take up to 18 sick days every year, four days to attend appointments and five to care for sick family members.

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“We have known for some time that government workers take more sick days than workers who aren’t in government,” Lacey said. “For us, it’s an issue of fairness because those workers who aren’t in government are paying for those sick days.”

Lacey is recommending an employee tracking system which would keep tabs on the number of sick days a government employee takes. That way, Lacey said, employers can see which workers need additional support for illnesses or family crises, and which are abusing the system.

“We don’t want people coming in sick,” Lacey said. “We do think people should be treated like adults.”

Joan Jessome, the head of the NSGEU–the largest union representing government employees — scoffs at the timing of the federation’s report.

“We’re a couple of days from a provincial budget and they’re always looking for ways to put a wedge between the public and private sectors,” she said.

Jessome said government employees don’t use sick days just because they’re entitled to them. In fact, the average government worker used 12.6 sick days in 2013-14–well below the 18 days they’re allowed.

The federation says sick days in 2013-14 cost Nova Scotia taxpayers about $26 million.

Jessome said the top sick days as picked by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation happened in December, January, February and March.

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“There’s colds, flu, people get sick. There is no widespread abuse,” Jessome said.

Jessome also said the government employers can ask for proof of illness. There are other mechanisms built into public service contracts allowing employers to track sick days and catch abusers.

“There are all kinds of policies in place to address it,” she said adding that employee sick days aren’t a huge bone of contention at the bargaining table.

In 2013-14, the Top 15 sick days taken by government workers according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation were:

  1. March 27, 2014  (Day after snow storm)
  2. January 23, 2014 (Day after snow storm)
  3. February 19, 2014 (Olympic hockey Canada v. Latvia)
  4. March 13, 2014  (Freezing rain storm)
  5. January 3, 2014 (First Friday after New Year’s Day)
  6. February 6, 2014 (Day after snow storm)
  7. December 27, 2013
  8. March 5, 2014
  9. January 2, 2014
  10. March 11, 2014
  11. December 30, 2014 (Christmas holidays)
  12. March 4, 2014
  13. February 20, 2014 (Olympic hockey Women’s gold medal game)
  14. February 14, 2014  (Olympic hockey Canada v. Austria)
  15. March 3, 2014