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London City Hall sees spike in sick leave across all departments

London City Hall as seen June 14, 2017 (Matthew Trevithick/980CFPL).
London City Hall as seen June 14, 2017 (Matthew Trevithick/980CFPL). Matthew Trevithick / 980 CFPL File

A new report outlining a rise in sick leave at London City Hall prompted the head of human resources to call it “a little disturbing” during a Tuesday committee meeting.

The average sick time per employee jumped from 61.8 hours in 2016 to 67.2 hours last year, and for some communication workers in the fire department, that number is closer to 80 hours per employee.

“But we indicated in the report a variety of reasons for why employees would choose to take sick leave, and also list numerous ways to help them,” said chief human resources officer Bill Coxhead.

The report highlights that workers in the communications branch of the fire department took an average of 187.7 hours (15.6 days, based on a shift of 12 hours) of sick leave last year compared to 109.4 hours (9.1 days) in 2016.

“We are truly fortunate to have multiple programs that go a long way to help support these people while they are on leave,” he said.

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Allegations of harassment erupted at the London Fire Department last month, and mounting pressure led city hall to hire a Toronto law firm to investigate the city’s corporate workplace culture and policy for filing complaints.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Coxhead took the time to address the possibility whether harassment allegations have influenced the spike.

“It’s a complicated issue, and I won’t be discounting those allegations in the environment, but we don’t yet know how much of an impact they are having in relation to sick leave,” Coxhead said.

“We’ve embarked on a mission of sorts to create a comfortable work environment where folks will actually want to come in,” he said.

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But according to Coxhead, there are a variety of reasons for employees to take time off.

“We have a lot more folks who are working well past 65 due to the elimination of the mandatory retirement age,” Coxhead said.

“They have other important health issues that have to be dealt with, which ultimately contributes to this spike,” he said.

Coxhead says that many employees who do take sick leave are availing themselves to the resources available, such as mental health.

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He adds while the report is a cause for concern, the numbers themselves aren’t “ridiculously out of whack,” and that the city is currently devising a plan to address the spike before it becomes larger.