Which Leave of Absence Applies when a Family Member is Sick?

Employee requiring leave of absence.

When an employee needs to take a leave of absence to care for a sick family member, it may not always be clear which type of leave applies. Over the last few years, governments across Canada have expanded the leaves of absence available to employees who require time off due to an ill family member, creating some confusion.

In this guide, we review the types of family care leave that may apply in these circumstances – compassionate care leave, critical illness leave, personal leave, and others – and explain the factors to consider.

When an employee’s family member is ill, which leave of absence applies?

Employees across Canada are entitled to various leaves of absence to care for a sick family member. Most jurisdictions (exceptions noted below) entitle employees to: personal, compassionate care and critical illness leaves of absence. The length of each leave of absence may vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but generally, these leaves provide the following:

  • Personal Leave: 3-10 days of leave to meet family responsibilities, including in relation to the health of a family member. Every jurisdiction other than Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan requires this type of leave.
  • Compassionate Care Leave: 27-28 weeks of leave to care for a terminally ill family member. The federal government and all provinces provide this type of leave.
  • 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. The federal government and all provinces provide this type of leave, though Prince Edward Island only requires leave to care for critically ill children.

Generally, these leaves of absence are unpaid, except for federal and Quebec employers which are required to provide 2-3 days of paid personal leave.

Ontario also requires employers to provide family caregiver leave, which entitles employees to 8 weeks of unpaid leave in relation to family members who require care for a “serious medical condition” (chronic or episodic) per a medical certificate.

What factors should HR consider when an employee requests a family care leave of absence?

Minor vs Serious Illness

For a relatively minor health care issue, an employee may wish to take a (brief) personal leave of absence. More serious illnesses may require an employee to take a (longer) critical illness or compassionate care leave.

When considering whether an employee should take critical illness or compassionate care leave, a determining factor is the severity of the family member’s illness. An employee may be eligible for critical illness leave if their family member’s baseline state of health has significantly changed and their life is at risk due illness or injury. Compassionate care leave, on the other hand, generally applies where the family member is likely to die within 26 weeks. In both cases, the illness must be confirmed by a medical certificate.

Some jurisdictions (e.g., Federal, Quebec) specify that employers can request documentation for a personal leave, but, typically, a medical certificate is not required for this shorter leave of absence.

Who is a family member?

Another factor to consider is whether the person identified by the employee as a family member meets the definition of “family” in the applicable legislation.

Most jurisdictions adopt a very broad definition of family for critical illness and compassionate care leaves, but the list of people who are considered family for purposes of a personal leave of absence is often much more limited.

If the employer is concerned that the employee may not qualify for a family care leave, they should review the employment standards legislation of the jurisdiction where the employee works.

Length of employment

Whether an employee is eligible for a particular type of leave may be determined by the length of their employment.

Eligibility periods vary across Canada. Some provinces, like British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec have no eligibility periods for these leaves (i.e., employees are eligible for these leaves on their first day of work). Alberta tends to have one of the longest eligibility periods – being 90 days of employment – for any leave of absence. In Ontario, eligibility varies depending on the leave in question (e.g., there is no eligibility period for compassionate care leave, while employees must be employed for 6 months before being eligible for critical illness leave).

Final thoughts

Finally, it is worth noting that, per the legislation, employees are not prevented from stacking these family care leaves (i.e., taking one after another) where their family member has an ongoing illness.

For more information on leaves of absence, check out our Guide to Leaves of Absence in Canada.

How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals

Eligibility for and 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.

Screenshot 2023 07 18 at 3.55.20 PM

Contact us to Request a Demo or email us at info@complianceworks.ca 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.

The latest in HR laws delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to the Compliance Works newsletter for our takes on HR laws, compliance changes, and other trending workplace topics.

Related articles

Easy tutorials to
get you started

May 25, 2023

In this Compliance Works How To video we show you how to add users to your Compliance Works account!

May 25, 2023

In this video we will show you how to create reports. Reports are automatically updated to show any changes in the law and can be downloaded as a pdf to share with others.

May 25, 2023

In this video we show you how to find recent changes in the law.

You’re all set! Our team will be in touch in the next 24 hours to schedule your personal demo. In the meantime, you can learn more about our software or explore our HR compliance resources.