Canadian employers bracing for increase in employee medical leaves

Survey finds 63 per cent of employers offer stay-at-work programs

Canadian employers bracing for increase in employee medical leaves

Canadian employers are expecting an increase in employee medical leaves as a result of the nation’s aging workforce and a greater awareness around mental health.

A recent Conference Board of Canada survey finds Canadian employers are already preparing for the increase, with 63 per cent currently offering formal stay-at-work (such as flexible hours, modified duties and telework) programs to assist employees experiencing mental health challenges or chronic illness.

"Preventing illness and injury and promoting employee well-being are of critical importance to employers, but not all illness and injury can be prevented," said Allison Cowan, director of total rewards and workplace health research at the Conference Board of Canada. "A large majority of Canadian employers recognize that absence and disability management programming is part of an effective overall organizational health management strategy."

The survey found that 68 per cent of employers have a formal strategy for absence and disability management.

The health conditions employers believe are the most likely to cause increases in medical leaves include: a mental health issue or illness (42 per cent), cancer (15 per cent) and a musculoskeletal issue or injury (13 per cent).

Employers are looking for ways to accommodate workers with these issues so they can remain in “gainful, productive and rewarding work,” the COnfernece Board said. These “stay-at-work” programs include flexible work hours or modified duties (95 per cent of employers), offer of a different job (62 per cent) and telework (59 per cent).

Staying at work may not always be possible, so return-to-work programs are essential for those employees requiring a medical leave. These programs provide the necessary accommodations to help employees with mental and physical health challenges return to productive and safe employment while they recover, and 87 per cent of Canadian employers already have these programs in place.

Overall, disability and absence management appears to be well integrated in Canadian organizations. In fact, 68 per cent of employers surveyed have a formal strategy and 86 per cent have a written policy outlining the steps employees and supervisors should take if an employee requires time off work for a health issue.

While employers are clearly dedicated to creating comprehensive disability and absence management programs, there is room for improvement. Currently, less than one-third (31 per cent) of employers surveyed require their disability management staff to have degrees or certification in a related field. There is a growing understanding that having trained practitioners can make significant contributions to success within these programs, the Conference Board of Canada said.