Northern Exposure

Another New Leave of Absence for Canadians?

By Ralph N. Nero and Fida Hindi

Canadian employees are entitled to all sorts of leaves – maternity leaves, parental leaves, sick leaves, emergency leaves, leave for the disappearance of a minor child, and the list goes on. Now Ontario may be joining Quebec by creating yet another new category of leave of absence for employees — family caregiver leave.

Bill 30, the Family Caregiver Leave Act (Employment Standards Amendment), 2012, would amend the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) by adding family caregiver leave. If Bill 30 becomes law, it will come into force on July 1, 2012.

Family caregiver leave
Bill 30 is designed to allow an employee to take up to eight weeks of unpaid leave of absence to care for or support an individual who suffers from a serious medical condition. The bill contains a wide definition of an “individual” in need of support or care and includes:

  1. the employee’s spouse;
  2. a parent, step-parent, or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse;
  3. a child, step-child, or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse;
  4. a grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild, or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee’s spouse;
  5. the spouse of a child of the employee;
  6. the employee’s brother or sister;
  7. a relative of the employee who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance; and
  8. any individual prescribed as a family member under the regulations.

An employee would be permitted to take up to eight weeks of leave of absence every year for each individual listed above. Further, family caregiver leave would be in addition to the right to take family medical leave (up to eight weeks to provide care and support to certain family members with serious medical conditions and significant risk of death) and personal emergency leave (up to 10 days for personal and certain family illnesses or emergencies).

General leave of absence protections also apply

Employees who take family caregiver leave would also receive the benefit of other general leave protections already contained in the ESA, including reinstatement rights, continued service/seniority accrual, and wage protection.

Takeaway for employers
If Bill 30 is enacted, family caregiver leave will be added to the eight existing leaves of absence already permitted in Ontario, namely pregnancy leave, parental leave, family medical leave, organ donor leave, personal emergency leave, emergency leave, declared emergency, and reservist leave. While Ontario and Quebec would be unique in offering this combination of leaves (indeed Quebec offers even more leaves), they may not be alone for long. If the Canadian federal government agreed to extend employment insurance benefits to cover family caregiver leaves, other provinces could quickly follow suit.

Canadian employers should be thinking about the need to plan for and accommodate potentially lengthy absences by reviewing staffing plans and policies. Employers should also review existing policies, employee handbooks, benefit plans, employment contracts, and collective agreements in order to ensure consistency and identify any new costs or potential adverse consequences.