Staff Report #2 – 2020 Attendance and Disability Management Programs

Staff Report #2

February 24, 2021

To All Commissioners

Re: 2020 Attendance and Disability Management Programs


That the report be NOTED and FILED.


Absenteeism and disability management represent an onerous and costly challenge for all organizations. Success in meeting the challenge is dependent upon understanding and managing the many complexities and competing elements associated with absenteeism and disability management, including:

  • trends and factors impacting the type and nature of illness leading to absenteeism. In 2020, the world was hit with a pandemic which significantly affected employee attendance and is extending in 2021;
  • workplace demographics, i.e. aging workforce, availability and extent of health benefits, work/family issues
  • legislative requirements associated with the duty to accommodate;
  • the organizational culture around disability and absence; and
  • changes to the Employment Standards Act and other legislative requirements

The graphic below illustrates the five distinct categories of lost time utilized by London Transit. The colours associated with each category represent the level of control the employer has over each category, with green being a relatively high level of control and red being little to no control. The associated bullets with each category represent the various programs and strategies currently in place to mitigate the lost time in each of the categories, the details of which are discussed later in this report.

Short Term Disability (yellow) • Return to Work Program

• Employee Assistance Program & Peer Support Program

• Employee Wellness / Mental Health Resiliency Training

Work Related Disability (green) • Health & Safety Annual Work Program

• Hazard Recognition & Injury Investigation Process

• Return to Work Program

• Employee Assistance and Peer Support Programs

• Employee Wellness / Mental Health Resiliency Training

Long Term Disability (red) • Long Term Medical Placement

• Employee Assistance and Peer Support Programs

• Employee Wellness / Mental Health Resiliency Training

LOA Statutory & Contractual (red)
Other Lost Time (yellow) • Attendance Management Program

• Culpable Absenteeism Program

• Management Outreach to Employees

• Employee Assistance and Peer Support Programs

• Employee Wellness / Mental health Resiliency Training

The various programs and training set out in the above chart have been successful to varying degrees over the past number of years in managing the extent of lost time in the workplace. As the discussion following will touch on, in large part, lost time levels have remained relatively consistent over the period 2017 through 2019.

The declaration of a global pandemic in March of 2020 significantly restricted the employer’s ability to control lost time. Due to the many uncertainties and the related impacts of the pandemic, London Transit needed to support employees through these turbulent times. The focus on employees’ mental health was essential, and as such, priority was placed on fast-tracking the Mental Health Resiliency Training Program’s rollout, and all active employees have now received this training. While the direct impact this training had on lost time is not known, the feedback provided from participants indicates that, at a minimum, it provided employees with tools and options to help them manage mental health challenges arising from the pandemic. Additionally, communications shared with employees throughout the pandemic period included tips relating to mental health as a reminder of what was discussed in the training program.

Public health guidance, coupled with the employers’ desire to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all employees, resulted in changes to attendance management so significant that comparing 2020 results to previous years is futile. Notwithstanding the inability to directly compare 2020 to previous years, data for the years 2017 through 2020 is provided in the interest of transparency.

From the onset of the pandemic, all levels of government agreed that public transit services were considered essential. As such, London Transit continued to provide both conventional and specialized transit services. Employees were required to continue to attend the workplace to perform their role. As evident later in this report, notwithstanding all of the efforts undertaken to protect employees’ health and safety throughout the pandemic, lost time increased significantly. The lost time resulted in the need to reduce the level of service that was being provided as employee resources declined. The service levels provided throughout the pandemic fluctuated between 70% and 90% of what would normally be in place as service schedules were adjusted to better match employee availability.

In early February 2020, messaging began to be communicated to employees, reminding them to stay home if they are unwell to mitigate the spread of the virus. Due to the many uncertainties at the time with respect to how employees would be supported in dealing with the pandemic, London Transit worked collectively with the ATU Local 741 Executive to address issues specific to employees who were uncomfortable attending work or were concerned for their families or health. The Parties agreed upon options to assist employees, including the ability to move vacation, allowing for short-term leaves of absences, Work from Home Agreements, etc.

On March 19, 2020, Ontario amended the Employment Standards Act (Ontario) emergency leave provisions to provide new leaves relating to infectious diseases and declared emergencies (e.g. COVID-19). Employees could utilize these protected leaves to care for ill family members, children during school closures, isolate due to concerns with pre-existing conditions leaving them vulnerable to COVID-19, etc.

Throughout 2020, public health guidance evolved as additional data relating to the virus was gathered; this resulted in changes in protocols with respect to when someone should be tested, what was considered a close contact, how long they should remain in isolation if they had been in close contact, etc. Additionally, insurance companies altered the course several times with respect to what would be considered an approved COVID claim and how long it would be approved. While the nature and frequency of the changes are understandable given the evolving nature of the pandemic, it resulted in the employer’s ability to manage lost time being severely restricted, and the knowledge that lost time would increase and remain at a significantly higher rate throughout the pandemic period. Notwithstanding this, the underlying principle of all decisions made by the employer throughout 2020 relating to the pandemic was to ensure the employee’s health and safety to the extent possible, noting the service needed to continue to operate.

The remainder of the report provides commentary with respect to the impacts the pandemic declaration and resulting program, and policy changes had on lost time, noting, as set out in the table below, lost time in total for 2020 increased by 35% over the previous three-year average.

Summary of All Lost Time – Average Days Per Employee 2017 to 2020

Year Short Term Disability Work-Related Disability Long Term Disability LOA Statutory & Other Other Lost Time Total
2017 7.1 0.6 2.4 3.3 4.4 17.8
2018 7.9 0.6 2.7 4.1 3.9 19.2
2019 9.5 0.2 1.6 3.3 4.7 19.7
2020 12.2 0.2 2.9 5.9 5.4 26.6

As indicated in the chart above, all but one category (work-related disability) saw increases in lost time in 2020.

Aside from lost time associated with and/or affected by COVID-19, Human Resources continued to manage absenteeism and disability management through dynamic approaches, strategies and evolving initiatives combined with the consistent application of same. Such ongoing initiatives include:

  • continue to communicate attendance management policies and programs consistent with practical and legal realities;
  • analyze incidents and causes of disability and absenteeism, and identify and implement initiatives to reduce same;
  • effectively integrate the duty to accommodate within the organization’s culture, relevant policies and programs; and
  • continue to ensure a culture that encourages all parties to work cooperatively and effectively responding to the collective issues of attendance.

Disability Management

Disability management encompasses both compensable sickness and injury (i.e. job-related, and therefore subject to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act) and non-compensable (i.e. non-job-related, and subject to the terms and conditions of London Transit’s wage replacement insurance program as provided under the current insurer, Desjardins Financial Services – DFS).

Disability management is an increasingly important and complex area to manage given the significant financial exposure associated with actual claims and the myriad of legislation (i.e. Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Employment Accessibility portion of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation under the AODA). Additionally, the Collective Agreement includes provisions pertaining to the Return to Work program, which is critical to disability management.

London Transit’s Return to Work Program

A progressive Return to Work (RTW) program for both compensable and non-compensable disabilities is a key element of London Transit’s Disability Management Program. Employees who are off work are required to provide functional ability information from their attending healthcare practitioner. This information is compared to the employee’s pre-disability position’s physical and cognitive demands. If the employee cannot be accommodated to return to his or her pre-disability position, temporary alternative work is explored. A range of value-added temporary alternative work, such as interior bus cleaning, customer service work, light-duty work in Fleet and Facilities and/or administrative areas, is considered. Costs and progress are monitored with the ultimate objective of returning the employee to full and normal duties. The RTW program is critical in that it provides an alternative to employees remaining on income replacement benefits pending a return to full and normal duties. The program supports employees performing productive work (versus not working) even if it is outside their normal classification. The RTW program offers benefits to both the employee (e.g. reduces or eliminates lost earnings, helps reduce social isolation, helps maintain a sense of confidence and value) and the employer (e.g. retention of experienced employees, better productivity, effective management/containment of non-attendance cost).

The RTW program is implemented in response to the duty to accommodate disabled employees arising from the Ontario Human Rights Code. The program continues to evolve, as case law in this area continues to expand in terms of what is considered a reasonable and suitable accommodation for a disability, and as such managing these programs while still complying with legislative requirements can be a challenging exercise. Three component parts define the RTW program:

  • Modified Work – any job or bundle of tasks within an employee’s pre-disability position which he/she may perform without the risk of re-injury to themselves or others. This Work may consist of regular tasks that have been changed, redesigned or physically modified. If necessary and if it can be reasonably accommodated, there may be a reduction in time or volume of Work performed.
  • Work Hardening – involves tasks within an employee’s pre-disability position designed to condition the body and gradually improve strengths and tolerance, to the point where he/she can once again be considered able to perform the essential duties in his/her pre-disability position.
  • Alternate Work – involves temporary short-term alternate Work, which will be considered for employees who cannot perform the essential duties of their pre-disability position, or cannot be accommodated by way of modified Work and/or work hardening. Alternate Work that may be available temporarily will not exceed 12 weeks, except by approval of the General Manager, in consultation with Human Resources.

There continues to be increased reliance on London Transit’s RTW program for both compensable and non-compensable disabilities, and it is anticipated that this trend will continue. The overall program’s annual costs have increased from $360,000 in 2016 to upwards of $435,000 in 2020. Notwithstanding this significant increase, the RTW program continues to be fully funded by the Commission’s Health Care Management Reserve. Contributions to the reserve come primarily from WSIB premium rebates associated with related favourable claims and cost experience, much of which results from an effective RTW program.

Although the annual costs have increased, there continues to be significant value in the alternate work programs and job tasks associated with same. In 2020, full interior bus washes and daily bus disinfection were two critical alternate work programs directly tied to reducing exposure to COVID-19.

Short-Term Disability (STD)

The following table summarizes the change in lost time associated with Short Term Disability (STD) over the past four years.

Short Term Disability & Employment Insurance (1) Lost Time – 2017 to 2020

Operations Fleet & Facilities Admin & Mgt Total
Year Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee
2017 3,962 8.6 305 3.1 171 2.8 4,438 7.1
2018 4,390 9.0 645 6.4 92 1.7 5,127 7.9
2019 5,409 10.9 550 5.2 290 5.3 6,249 9.5
2020 7,019 14.3 803 6.3 549 8.0 8,372 12.2
  • Under the wage replacement program, employees have a period between eligibility for STD benefits and LTC benefits which they are eligible for Employment Insurance sick benefits.

In 2020, there was a 31% increase in the number of STD claims filed compared to 2019. Based on the insurance carrier’s information, a significant portion of the increased claims were directly tied in some aspect to COVID-19. The majority of these cases were resolved within two weeks. Notwithstanding the relatively short timeframe of these claims, they are large in number and are anticipated to have a significant impact on the employer benefit renewal in 2021.

In addition to the claims resulting from COVID, individuals on disability for non-COVID-19 related reasons have remained off longer than anticipated given delays in required services, surgeries, treatment, etc., because of the pandemic. Consistent with experience across the province, London Transit experienced an overall increase in both the number of STD claims and the overall duration of same in 2020.

Long-Term Disability (LTD)

The following table summarizes the change in lost time associated with Long Term Disability (LTD) claims over the past four years.

Long Term Disability (1) Lost Time – 2017 to 2020

Operations Fleet & Facilities Admin & Mgt Total
Year Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee
2017 1,485 3.2 0 0 0 0 1,485 2.4
2018 1,745 3.6 6 0.1 0 0 1.751 2.7
2019 840 1.7 192 1.8 0 0 1,032 1.6
2020 1,722 3.5 165 1.3 111 1.6 1,998 2.9
  • Cases where COD has been approved and no likelihood of RTW are not included in the above

On average, the number of approved LTD claims has been relatively consistent over the four-year period. The 2019 report noted that a number of more difficult Short Term Disability claims were likely to transition to LTD claims in 2020. Combined with delays in treatments for those on STD due to COVID-19, LTD cases in 2020 increased.

Compensable Injuries and Illness – Workplace Safety Insurance Board

London Transit’s Health and Safety Program has a clear mandate/objective to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and related absences. Notwithstanding the program and various initiatives in place, compensable injuries and illnesses do occur. Such claims must be promptly and properly investigated, processed and monitored. This begins with a feedback loop to the Joint Health and Safety Committees in terms of investigating and understanding the event giving rise to the injury or illness, taking preventative steps in the future, and where warranted, enlisting the assistance of an ergonomic consultant. It also includes active management of claims, including liaising with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) and appealing approved claims that Administration feels are not compensable under the Act. In addition, London Transit utilizes an outside consultant’s services for more complex claims management and representation when claims appeals are heard.

The following table summarizes the change in lost time associated with compensable injuries and illnesses over the past four years.

Workplace / Job-Related Injuries / Illness Lost Time – 2017 to 2020

Operations Fleet & Facilities Admin & Mgt Total
Year Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee
2017 344 0.7 11 0.2 0 0 355 0.6
2018 290 0.6 82 1.5 0 0 372 0.6
2019 135 0.3 25 0.5 0 0 160 0.2
2020 155 0.3 9 0.1 0 0 164 0.2

As indicated earlier in this report, this area of lost time is the area the employer has the most control over, through safe work practices and procedures and the effective implementation of annual Joint Health and Safety Work Programs. In addition, the existence of a progressive RTW program and a significant investment in claims management, assessment, and prevention has helped to keep these numbers down.

WSIB Premium and Rebate Costs

London Transit is a Schedule II employer, and as such, the annual WSIB premiums have historically been performance-based, referred to as the NEER Program. Historically premium rates were set annually by the industry sector. Employers were retrospectively either surcharged for poor performance or rebated for favourable performance at the end of each year (based on the WSIB’s September to September calendar). Since 2003, London Transit has received annual rebates due to favourable performance, which have in turn been utilized to fund the RTW program. Annual rebates have been applied directly to London Transit’s Health Care Management Reserve, which is utilized to fund RTW program initiatives and/or any surcharge experienced.

Effective January 1, 2020, the WSIB NEER Program has been replaced with a “Rate Framework Program”. The NEER program ended December 31, 2019, with the final NEER rebate or surcharge applied in 2020. The final NEER rebate received in the fall of 2020 was $347,000.

The following provides a high-level summary of the “Rate Framework Program”, noting that until such time as the employer has experience with this new program, the impacts of same on annual costs will be difficult to estimate.

  • Under the new system, rather than having employers pay premiums based on their business activity, then calculating premium rebates or surcharges based on experience rating on a retrospective basis, the WSIB will be adjusting each employer’s premium rate in the fall of each year based on past experience rating and providing a projection as to whether the employer is trending upward or downward with their premium rate. Depending on their experience rating over a rolling six-year period, an employer’s premium rate will move up or down based on risk bands established as part of the program.
  • London Transit’s premium rate for 2020 was $1.70 (per $100). In 2020, WSIB advised that all employer costs associated with COVID-19 relating to claims will not be allocated at the employer or class level. Instead, they will be allocated on a Schedule-wide basis. Further, WSIB advised that the current premium rate for 2020 will not be subject to change in 2021.

Given this change in program and the additional changes in 2020 and 2021, Administration will be assessing the new program’s potential impacts concerning the RTW Program, disability claims management, and the expanded active claim period from four to six years.

Leave of Absences (LOA) per Statute and/or Employment Contract/Agreements

Absences due to leaves can be paid (e.g. bereavement) or unpaid (e.g. pregnancy and parental), and the employer has little or no control over this lost time. As such, these absences are considered statutory/legislative in nature. The following table sets out the Leaves of Absence for the four-year period 2017 through 2020.

Leaves of Absence – per Statute and/or Employment Contract/Agreement – 2017 to 2020

Operations Fleet & Facilities Admin & Mgt Total
Year Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee
2017 1,559 3.4 238 2.4 271 4.4 2,068 3.3
2018 2,069 4.2 419 4.1 189 3.4 2,677 4.1
2019 1,883 3.8 275 2.6 13 0.2 2,171 3.3
2020 3,625 7.4 398 3.1 38 0.6 4,060 5.9

In 2020, lost time under this category experienced a historic high to almost double that of a normal year, directly attributable to the pandemic. Two primary factors attributed to this increase:

  • The decision by the employer at the onset of the pandemic declaration to allow employees to take short-term leaves of absence for reasons relating to the pandemic; and
  • The amendment to the Employment Standards Act (Ontario) in March of 2020 to emergency leave provisions providing for new leaves relating to COVID-19. Employees could utilize these protected leaves to care for ill family members, care for children during school closures, etc.

Other Lost Time

Non-attendance captioned as other lost time (no disability benefits are payable) has increased slightly over the four years. Non-attendance in this category covers such cases as one-day illness and/or sporadic illnesses, non-job related injury, book-off personal, absence without leave, late to work and non-compensable days in which approval for an STD/LTD claim is either pending/denied/withdrawn/no further action. Absences in this category also have a negative impact on the organization’s ability to provide service. The following table summarizes the lost time associated with this category for the four years 2017 through 2020.

Other Lost Time – No STD, LTD or WSIB Benefit Payable – 2017 to 2020

Operations Fleet & Facilities Admin & Mgt Total
Year Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee Total Days Avg per Employee
2017 2,400 5.2 163 1.6 152 2.5 2,715 4.4
2018 2,012 4.1 319 3.2 161 2.9 2,492 3.9
2019 2,544 5.1 282 2.7 226 4.1 3,052 4.7
2020 3,262 6.7 194 1.5 272 3.9 3,728 5.4

In 2020, lost time under this category increased to the highest level over the four year period, again directly attributable to the pandemic. Employees who experienced COVID-19 symptoms were staying home, (noting the list of symptoms expanded throughout the year) ensuring their safety and their co-workers’ safety, per the Ontario guidelines and Health Unit guidelines recommending same.

The majority of these types of absences are managed through the Attendance Management Program (AMP) as “monitored absences,” separate and apart from the disability management process noted earlier in this report. The AMP establishes attendance standards and employees who fail to meet the standards in any given year progress within the program. Standards apply to both the number of days or part days missed in this category of absence, as well as the number of occurrences (the latter being defined as the number of instances of absence, with a continuous absence treated as one occurrence). Throughout the process, the emphasis of the AMP is on assisting employees to deal with underlying causes of non-attendance and encouraging more regular attendance. The program has proven effective in identifying those employees who require assistance in dealing with factors affecting attendance and has resulted in many success stories where individual attendance has improved. Recognizing that 2020 was a unique and challenging year, no employees advanced in the AMP as the result of their attendance in 2020. Instead, communications were sent out, reminding employees that supports, including their supervisors, are available if needed and encouraging those having difficulties to reach out.

The Cost of Non-Attendance

The cost of absenteeism is generally defined from three perspectives:

  • productivity cost, i.e. impact on available productive hours, workload allocation issues and related opportunity costs addressing the allocation issues;
  • administrative cost relating to staff time managing absences and the impacts of same; and
  • financial costs relating to increased complement requirements, overtime costs and impact on employee benefit costs.

The annual cost associated with non-attendance, considering the above, ranges between $2.1 million and $2.6 million. The estimated cost accounts for approximately 5% of the $49.5 million in annual personnel expenditure, which includes all earnings and employee benefit costs. Personnel costs account for approximately 61% of the $81.7 million total operating budget for conventional and specialized services.

Given the nature of the service provided, an average of approximately 80% of all non-attendance is managed via increased complement, with the balance being replaced at overtime or not replaced at all. The need to replace the lost time defines the nature of public transit, i.e. providing scheduled service to customers noting the majority of employees are Operators whose responsibility is to deliver on-road service. The decision to replace non-attendance with the hiring of additional staff or replace at overtime is predicated upon an assessment of key inputs, namely:

  • the nature and extent of service requirements, which are variable by time of day, day of week and time of year;
  • the number, timing and duration of periods of absences;
  • the impact on efforts and capacity to fill work assignments;
  • efficiency considered work rules/requirements – the cost of hiring/employing replacement staff vs. applying overtime;
  • the impact of legislative changes, and
  • the impact on the quality of work life.

A complement assessment is undertaken on an annual basis in an effort to determine the appropriate Operator complement to ensure service requirements can be met while at the same time mitigating the extent of the need for personnel to be available to fill shifts for same day absences.


Consistent with the Canadian workforce in general, as well as the transit industry at large, London Transit continues to experience increases in lost time, recognizing that disability management is multi-faceted and challenging. COVID-19 has further exacerbated the ability to manage lost time, and in 2020 increases were directly attributable to the pandemic, which is expected to be the case in 2021 for the period that pandemic-related lockdowns and protocols remain in place.

Recommended by:

Julie Hall, Manager of Human Resources

Joanne Galloway, Director of Human Resources

Concurred by:

Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager