Paid Sick Leave Benefits During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Last Updated: February 17, 2021

Download PDF

This Briefing Note was completed by the Research, Analysis, and Evaluation Branch (Ministry of Health).
Please refer to the Methods section for further information.


This note summarizes the impact of providing employees with sick leave (paid or unpaid) during
the COVID-19 pandemic, including individuals who are ill and have tested positive for COVID-19 and who
are awaiting test results.

*The full version of the Briefing Note including the Appendix can be accessed in the PDF file at the top of the page*

Key Findings

Analysis for Ontario

Supporting Evidence

This section summarizes the documented effects of introducing leave policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scientific Evidence

Existing Paid Sick Leave Policies

  • A US study (2020) reported that, as of July 2020, guaranteed paid leave for personal illness is currently available in 193 United Nations (UN) member states; 27% of countries do not guarantee paid sick leave from the first day of illness, which is considered to be essential to encouraging workers to stay home when they are sick and therefore preventing spread; 58% of countries do not have explicit provisions to ensure self-employed and gig economy workers have access to paid sick leave benefits.

Effects of Paid Sick Leave Policies in the United States

  • Economic protection
    • A US study (2020) reported that job losses and working hour reductions during the COVID-19 outbreak have increased in states that have no laws for paid sick days.
  • Isolation and physical distancing
    • A US study (2020) reported that after introducing the federal paid sick leave policy, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), recipients’ daily hours spent at home increased (4.2%), and there were decreases in the average hours not at home per day (7.7%) and working hours (6.1%).
  • Reduced COVID-19 transmission
    • The FFCRA has helped contain the spread of the virus by permitting infected workers to stay at home; between March 6 and May 22, 2020, the policy was associated with approximately 400 fewer COVID-19 cases per state per day (one case per 1,300 workers), representing a 56% decrease in infections in these states.

Paid Sick Leave and Influenza-like-illness (ILI)

  • Reduced influenza transmission
    • Several US-based studies have reported that the provision of paid sick leave coverage at state and local levels has induced contagious employees to take sick leave, thereby reducing influenza activity during normal times. For example:
      • A 2020 study reported that mandating employee access to paid sick leave led to a reduction of 290 ILI cases per 100,000 patients per week (11% decline) in the first year after such a guarantee was enacted into law.
      • A 2017 US-based study reported that controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, education, and income, access to paid sick days was associated with a higher probability of staying home for an employee’s own illness/injury, ILI, or influenza, and for a child’s illness/injury.
      • Two US-based studies (2017, 2018) have suggested that improved access to paid sick leave in some regions and cities in the US has reduced influenza-type disease rates by 10%, and total work absence by 18%.
      • The 2017 study further reported that population-level influenza-like disease rates decrease after employees gain access to paid sick leave.

International Scan

Expansion of Paid Sick Leave Policies

  • COVID-19 has prompted policy responses in many countries, including paid sick leave reforms, aimed at simultaneously protect the health, jobs, and income of sick and quarantined workers.
  • A July 2020 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have resorted to, substantially expanded, or even initiated paid sick leave policies. Crisis response policies now include one or more of the following:
    • Strengthening support to employees suffering from COVID-19; extending support to quarantined employees; expanding access to paid sick leave, especially for self-employed workers (see Table 3 in the Appendix for more detail); and lowering the burden of employers to finance paid sick leave. (For details, see the OECD’s policy table).
    • Virtually all crisis response policies on paid sick leave were temporary and limited to workers suffering from COVID-19 or placed in mandatory quarantine.
  • Sick leave benefits for self-employed workers
    • The OECD report (2020) stated that sickness benefits have been expanded to include self-employed workers in many countries; almost all are time-bound and limited to COVID-19 sickness or quarantine. For details, see Table 3 in the Appendix.
  • Take up of sick leave benefits
    • The OECD report (2020) stated that at the peak of the outbreak in March 2020, take-up of paid sick leave roughly tripled in Sweden and doubled in Italy, before reverting to normal levels; In most OECD countries, approximately 4-6% of all employed workers were on paid sick leave in the most critical period.

Canadian Scan

Canada’s Sick Leave Policies

  • Unpaid Sick Leave Policies: Since March 2020, the Canadian government and several provinces have introduced unpaid, job-protected leaves to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 (BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, NB, PEI, and NL).
  • Paid Sick Leave Policies: In addition, the Canadian federal government and the Yukon have introduced paid sick leave policies:
    • The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) was designed to make it easier for workers to follow public health advice urging people to stay home if they are sick; $450 after taxes per week are provided for up to two weeks.
    • The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) provides income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they must care for a child (under 12 years) or a family member; $450 after taxes per week are provided for up to two weeks.
    • Yukon’s Paid Sick Leave Rebate supports workers and self-employed people by providing 10 days of wages per employee to allow for sick leave and/or a 14-day self-isolation period to a maximum daily rebate of $378.13. For details, see Table 2 in the Appendix.


The COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Network is comprised of groups specializing in evidence synthesis and knowledge translation. The group has committed to provide their expertise to provide high-quality, relevant, and timely synthesized research evidence about COVID-19 to inform decision makers as the pandemic continues.