You could run a company with 277 well-paid employees on what the city of Hamilton pays out to hard core users of the city’s sick leave program. That was one conclusion one could take from the release of the City’s report on Employee Attendance Performance Measures released early this month. What is amazing in these numbers is that  74% of city employees who don’t phone in sick, or only do so one or two times a year. 93 Long term disability cases account for 13,400 sick days a year; leaving a hard core group of 1222 employees who collectively ran up roughly 35,000 sick days or 29 days a year each.


Who is using the system?



Unionized staff take almost double the number of sick days as non-union. For an average employee who already gets 4-6 days of vacation plus statutory holidays, the 37 sick days works out to roughly one day’s absence for ever week they are on the job.

Despite the alarming number of sick days claimed in 2011, Hamilton finds itself in the middle of the pack when compared  to 11 other cities. Every city has different methods of service delivery, but the report indicates that cities that are responsible for operating their own Fire EMS, Transit and Long Term Care have the highest rates of absenteeism. The trend is similar in Hamilton.


Absenteeism by Employee Group


The City is launching a three year program to try to improve employee attendance. Part of it involves being a little more persistent  about just what is was that caused the employee to phone in sick. They will be questioned more closely about absences and if there is a suspicion that the employee is abusing the system they will be asked to fill out absenteeism forms. Part of the problem the report suggests is that managers in some cases are reluctant to sit down with employees to discusse their absenteeism. This may be in part because managers below a certain level are themselves unionized. This will be monitored more closely. Still there are limits to the measures that can be taken in dealing with unionized employees. Under the  current program for instance attendance management can’t be disciplinary in nature and can’t form part of a collective agreement. Part of the absentee management program will include going through employee records for the past few years to pinpoint the worst offenders—those who tack sick days onto weekends and holidays and the like.

John Best had enjoyed a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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