Halifax's auditor general is criticizing sick leave programs at the city.

Halifax’s auditor general is criticizing how sick leave is managed at the city and says in a new report that the benefit is being treated as an entitlement and form of compensation by some employees.

The report by Larry Munroe says there’s poor planning around sick leave, no strategy document, unclear objectives and that managers cannot prove the value for money of current programs.

The city spends roughly $9 million a year on employee absenteeism. The value of accumulated sick leave banked across all business units is $89 million and some employees, such as police officers, can be paid up to $10,000 for unused sick time when they retire. 

Munroe noted that sick leave rates among transit and transportation and public works employees are much higher than the average for other city employees.  

The auditor general also found that sick leave policies vary across the city. Munroe said that many benefits depend on the negotiating power of the particular bargaining unit.

"The [Office of the Auditor General] has to question the purpose of the variety of entitlements available, as it appears to the OAG sick leave entitlements are no longer a benefit designed to protect employees in case of illness given the inequitable access to the entitlements," the report says. 

"They now appear to be a form of additional compensation for some employee groups." 

Highlights of the report include:

  • Transit workers and public works employees take an average of 131 and 114 hours of sick leave a year, respectively. This compares to a city employee average of 67 hours, which is in line with the private sector.
  • Transit and public works employees make up 48 per cent of sick leave hours, but represent just 32 per cent of city staff.
  • Unionized workers are more likely to use sick leave than non-union workers.
  • Overall sick leave has increased in the four-year period studied by the auditor general.

Munroe makes a series of recommendations, including identifying why employees are missing work, improving data collection, doing a complete “re-think” of the model that determines how much sick leave is available and developing a model to improve attendance.

In a letter to Munroe, chief administrative officer Richard Butts said he agrees with the recommendations. He said Metro Transit and the department of transportation and public works have "implemented measures in an effort to address absenteeism." 

At Metro Transit those supports include antimicrobial seat covers for drivers, recognizing employees with perfect attendance, looking at barriers that stop employees from returning to work and providing them with modified duties when they are injured or ill.