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Canadian Employers Preparing for Increases in Employee Medical Leaves

Ottawa, March 22, 2018—Due to Canada’s aging workforce and greater awareness surrounding mental health, Canadian employers are expecting an increase in employee medical leaves. A recent Conference Board of Canada survey finds Canadian employers are already preparing for the increases, with 63 per cent of employers currently offering formal stay-at-work 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, Total Rewards and Workplace Health Research, 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.”


  • Healthy workplaces consider employee well-being broadly and address more than employee physical health.
  • Sixty-eight per cent of employers have a formal strategy for absence and disability management.
  • Less than one-third of Canadian organizations require their absence and disability management staff to have degrees or certifications in the field.

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 prioritizing programs that can accommodate employees facing such health challenges and have them remain in gainful, productive, and rewarding work. These stay-at-work programs include a variety of options such as 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. Eighty-seven per cent of Canadian employers have these programs in place.

On a whole, absence and disability management appears 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.

This report is based on a survey of 205 Canadian employers conducted by The Conference Board of Canada in 2016.

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