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Guide to Leaves of Absence in Canada

The federal government and every province in Canada require employers to provide eligible employees with a range of leaves of absence (around 12-14 leaves, depending on the jurisdiction). 

Frequently, employees seeking a leave of absence simply know that they need some time off due to a pregnancy, illness, death or other personal event. So, it is important for HR professionals to understand the different types of leaves of absence, when employees are eligible, the scope of the leave, whether it is paid or unpaid, and rights during and after a leave of absence. 

This Compliance Works guide provides a primer on leaves of absence and the requirements that HR teams should know. 

Types of Leaves of Absence

Per employment standards legislation across Canada, there are several types of leaves of absence which employers must provide. 

  • Bereavement Leave: 2-10 days of leave to be taken on the death of an employee’s family member.
  • Child Death & Disappearance Leave: 37-104 weeks of leave if an employee’s child disappears or dies due to a crime. Note: Ontario and Quebec leaves apply to all child deaths (i.e., the death need not be related to a crime).
  • Compassionate Care Leave: 27-28 weeks of leave to care for a terminally ill family member.
  • Critical Illness Leave: 16-17 weeks to care for a critically ill adult family member, or 37-104 weeks to care for a critically ill child. Note: Prince Edward Island only provides leave to care for critically ill children.
  • Domestic & Sexual Violence Leave: 10+ days of leave where an employee, or their child/dependent is a victim of domestic or sexual violence. Typically, employees may take leave to seek medical attention, counselling, victim services or legal assistance, or to relocate.
  • Jury Duty Leave: Leaves of indeterminate length to act as a juror. Note: Some provinces include this entitlement in separate legislation governing juries.
  • Personal Leave: 3-10 days of leave to meet family responsibilities. Note: Federal and Manitoba legislation also permit employees to take this leave to address their own health. Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan do not provide this type of leave.
  • Pregnancy & Parental Leave: 16-19 weeks of pregnancy leave, and 59-65 weeks of parental leave to be taken within a specified number of weeks of a child’s birth/adoption. Note: Federal and PEI legislation permit extended leaves in certain circumstances (e.g., the child is hospitalized or has a physical, psychological or emotional condition requiring an additional period of parental care). Quebec provides certain other related leaves (e.g., for medical exams, related health risks caused by the pregnancy).
  • Reservist Leave: 18+ months to perform Canadian Forces operations. Note: Several jurisdictions permit reservist leaves for an indefinite period of time.
  • Sick Leave: 3 days-26 weeks of leave for employee illness/injury. 

Note: Lengths of leaves of absence may vary considerably from one jurisdiction to the next. The ranges set out above represent the shortest and longest periods of each type of leave.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government and most provinces (except Quebec) enacted or expanded emergency and public health leaves of indeterminate length. Among other things, these leaves entitle employees to take time off to quarantine, isolate or care for family members. Several provinces also require employers to provide 3 hours of paid leave to enable employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations. 

In addition to the foregoing, some jurisdictions provide leaves with respect to: indigenous practices, citizenship ceremonies, family caregiver responsibilities, organ donation, sudden death and weddings/civil unions. 

Is the Employee Entitled to the Leave of Absence?

There are three questions that an HR professional should consider when determining whether an employee is entitled to take a leave of absence:

  • Have they been employed long enough? Eligibility periods vary across Canada. Some provinces, like British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec have no eligibility periods for many leaves. Other provinces have relatively short eligibility periods (e.g., Ontario employees are eligible for most leaves of absence after 2 weeks of consecutive employment). Alberta tends to have the longest eligibility period – being 90 days of employment – for all leaves of absence except for COVID-related leaves.
  • Is there a notice or evidentiary requirement and if so, did the employee give the required notice or proof? Some leaves, such as compassionate care leave, may require the employee to provide a medical certificate from a physician or nurse practitioner.
  • If the leave relates to an employee’s family member, does the relevant person qualify as family? Some provinces use different definitions of family for various leaves of absence. For example, a person who qualifies as a family member for purposes of critical illness leave may not qualify for purposes of bereavement leave. And, again, different jurisdictions utilize a range of definitions of family. 

Leaves of Absence – Paid or Unpaid?

Unlike vacation, in most circumstances, employers are not required to pay employees for time away from work due to a leave of absence. There are, of course, exceptions.

Certain jurisdictions require employers to pay eligible employees for a portion (i.e., the first few days) of bereavement, domestic and sexual violence, emergency and public health, personal and sick leaves. In addition to the foregoing, Quebec (which includes the most paid leave entitlements in Canada) requires employers to pay employees for a portion of organ donor and parental leave, and to provide employees with one day of paid leave to attend their own wedding/civil union. And, as noted above, several provinces require employers to provide 3 hours of paid leave to enable employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Rights During and After Leaves of Absence

During a leave of absence, most jurisdictions recognize an employee’s right to continuous service. This may include ongoing rights to:

  • participate in pension and benefit plans; and
  • accumulate seniority.

Many jurisdictions also stipulate that vacations that fall during a leave of absence may be deferred until the end of the leave. 

Employees on a leave are generally protected from dismissal, suspension or layoff for reasons related to the leave.

Typically, employees have a right to reinstatement after their leave to their most recent position or a comparable position, with no reduction in wages or other accrued benefits. However, certain provinces, such as Ontario and Quebec, specify in their legislation that an employee’s employment may be ended for reasons unrelated to the leave.

How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals

Lengths of leaves of absence may vary considerably from one jurisdiction to the next.  Compliance Works makes it quick and easy for HR professionals to compare how requirements differ across Canada.

Leaves of Absence - Compliance Works Compare Jurisdictions

Contact us to Request a Demo or email us at to learn how a subscription to Compliance Works can help your HR team succeed.

About the author

Lesha Van Der Bij
Lesha Van Der Bij CEO and Co-Founder, Compliance Works
Lesha is a senior lawyer who spent many years of her legal career at major Canadian law firms reviewing legislation and creating easy-to-understand summaries for clients.

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