Absenteeism among Toronto Transit Commission workers has been "unfavourable" for more than two years — but the reasons for it are complex and linked to the number of suicides witnessed by employees, the TTC has found.
The absentee rate had been above the 6.5 per cent target for 26 of the past 28 months, according to the TTC CEO's report for January 2017, which will be presented to the commission's board Wednesday.
In November, the absenteeism rate sat at 7.44 per cent.
But TTC spokesman Brad Ross said that a cluster of suicides can often drive up the absenteeism rate — especially among subway operators.
"Some people take longer than others to recover," he said. "It's a traumatic event. There's a period of time before somebody can potentially come back to work."
In the last three months of 2016, there were five suicides on the subway tracks in Toronto, according to the TTC's figures. They occurred on Oct. 31, Nov. 7, 11, and 24 as well as Dec. 6.
Nine people committed suicide on TTC property in 2016 and there were 14 suicide attempts. That compares to 11 suicides and five attempts in 2015.
Whenever a person dies or get injured on the tracks, a subway operator can take time off to recover from the trauma of witnessing the incident, Ross said.
47 operators needed leave in past 2 years
Ross said counselling is available to employees and Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board covers that cost. But the time off is tracked as an absence.
Some people are healthy enough to return to work within a few days, but that's not always the case, he said.
"People are allowed to take as many days as they need."
For all of 2015 and the first 11 months of 2016, employees took a total of 3,477 days leave due to witnessing suicides or suicide attempts on the subway, according to the commission's figures.
Some of the leave taken in 2015 may have been connected to 2014 incidents.
In total, over the two-year period for which statistics are available, 47 operators required leaves with an average of 74 days each.