Leaves of absence

Employees are allowed to take a leave of absence for specific reasons. Most leaves covered by B.C. employment standards are unpaid, but an employee's job is protected while they're on one. In most cases, an employee doesn't need to be employed for a certain amount of time to take leave.

Last updated: January 19, 2022

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Taking a leave

An employee needs to let their employer know:

  • When they need to take their leave – it's best to give advance notice in writing, although this isn't a requirement
  • Why they need to take the leave – employers can ask for proof that the leave is one of the types that are allowed

Some leaves, like compassionate care leave, are taken a week at a time – a week starts on Sunday. If an employee takes two days of leave in a week, it counts as a full week of leave.


Employer responsibilities

During the leave

If an employee is on a leave covered by the Employment Standards Act, their employment is considered continuous:

  • The employee continues to get any wage or benefit increases that they would normally receive
  • Employers continue to make payments to benefit plans – unless the employee doesn't want to continue with a plan or if they take reservists' leave
  • Employers continue to calculate annual vacation, termination entitlements, pension, benefits, or length of service the same as if they normally would

Returning to work

When leave ends, an employee can come back to their job or one like it. The employer must contact the employee to arrange the employee’s return to work.

  • An employer cannot terminate (fire or lay off) an employee or change their job conditions without the employee’s written agreement
  • If the job no longer exists and there is no similar job, the employee who is ready to return can be terminated but must be given compensation for length of service based on the last day of employment

Types of job-protected leaves

These leaves are different from ones that are covered by federal Employment Insurance benefits.

After 90 days of employment, employees can take up to 5 paid days and 3 unpaid days of job-protected leave in their employment year, based on their starting date. Illness or injury leave does not carry over from year to year if it is not used during the employment year. Employers should keep a record of the absence.

Employees can take time away from work without warning to deal with unexpected illnesses or life situations. They don't need to give the employer advance notice. If an employee can’t work due to illness or injury, they should notify their employer as soon as they can. An employer can ask for reasonably sufficient proof that an employee is entitled to this leave.

If an employee works 2 part time jobs at the same time, they get 5 paid sick days and 3 unpaid days per job after 90 days of employment with each job.

Employers need to follow B.C. employment standards if their business is unexpectedly disrupted or employees must be absent from work.

Employment year

“Employment year” means the specific employee’s employment year, based on their start date.

Example: If an employee was hired on May 1, 2021, their employment year ends April 30, 2022. Their next employment year would be from May 1, 2022 to April 30, 2023. In this example, the employee is entitled to 5 paid sick days from January 1, 2022 (when the provision came into force) to April 30, 2022 and 5 paid sick days when they enter a new employment year, from May 1, 2022 to April 30, 2023.

Illness or injury leave on a statutory holiday

Paid sick leave and statutory holiday pay are separate entitlements. If an employee qualifies for statutory holiday pay and is scheduled to work on the statutory holiday but takes paid sick leave, they would be entitled to an average day’s pay for both the statutory holiday and the paid sick leave.

Illness or injury leave and vacation pay

Vacation pay must be paid on an employee’s total wages including the paid sick leave required by this Act.

Reasonably sufficient proof

The employee is entitled to illness or injury leave when needed and the employer has the right to ask for reasonably sufficient proof of the need for the leave. Reasonably sufficient proof helps to establish that the employee's absence is due to illness or injury.

Employers should allow a reasonable time frame for an employee to provide proof. An employee might have limited ability to gather proof if they need the leave without warning. However, if the employee has electronic evidence that can be sent from home, it may be reasonable for the employee to send it while on leave. Employers should be aware of any privacy limitations when seeking medical information from employees.

Often, “reasonably sufficient proof” means a doctor’s note or similar documentation. For example, reasonably sufficient proof could be one of the following:

  • Receipt from a drugstore or pharmacy
  • Medical “bracelet” from a hospital
  • Note from a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional

What is reasonable depends on the situation. Some details to consider might be:

  • The length of the absence
    • For example, it may not be reasonable for an employee who only missed one day of work due to a migraine to provide proof
  • An established pattern of absences
    • For example, if an employee is always ill the day before a long weekend, it may be reasonable for the employer to request proof
  • Is proof available
    • For example, if the employee has returned from leave and is no longer ill, they may not be able to get a doctor's note
  • The cost of proof
    • For example, it may not be reasonable for an employer to require proof every time if a doctor charges $50 per request

Employees are entitled to an average day’s pay

The number of hours the employee is scheduled to work on a sick day doesn't change the wages owed for taking a paid sick day. Instead, they're paid an amount equal to an average day's pay.

Example 1: An employee who regularly works Monday to Friday, 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, is scheduled to work an extra 2 hours on Saturday. The employee calls in sick on Saturday. In this example, the average day’s pay would equal 8 hours at regular wage, not 2 hours. Even though the employee was only scheduled for 2 hours, they are entitled to an average day’s pay.

Example 2: A casual employee who has been employed for many years is scheduled to work two days in March. They do not earn any wages or work any shifts in January or February. On March 1st they work one 8 hour shift. They call in sick for their 3 hour shift on March 2nd. They are entitled to 8 hours of wages (“an average day’s pay” based on the calculation) for the March 2nd sick day.

How to calculate an average day's pay

If an employee qualifies for this leave, the employer must pay at least an average day’s pay for each day of paid leave taken. To calculate an average day's pay, use the following formula:

Total wages ÷ number of days worked = average day's pay

Base the calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the first day of the leave. Include vacation days and paid sick days.

Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay, paid vacation, and paid sick days. Don't include overtime.

Example: An employee in the food service industry worked 20 out of the 30 days before they took sick leave. Each week, they worked 4 hours per day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and 10 hours per day on Friday and Saturday. Their regular wage is $17 per hour.

Overtime is not included in the calculation for an average day’s pay. There are 12 hours total for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (4 hours x 3 days) and 16 hours for Friday and Saturday (20 hours - 4 hours overtime). The total is 28 hours per week x 4 weeks. There are 112 hours for the 20 days in total.

  • 112 hours x $17 per hour = $1904
  • $1904 divided by 20 days = $95.20

The sick pay entitlement in this example would be $95.20 for one sick day.

Parents can take unpaid time off work when they have a baby or adopt a child. Employees must submit a written request to their employer at least four weeks before taking maternity or parental leave.


Maternity leave (or pregnancy leave)

Pregnant employees can take up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave. An employer may request a note from a doctor or nurse practitioner that states the expected birth date, the actual birth date, or any other reasons for the leave.

Before the birth: Leave must begin on or before the date the baby is born. It cannot start earlier than 13 weeks before the expected birth date.

After the birth: Leave continues for at least six weeks after the birth. A certificate from a doctor or nurse practitioner is required if an employee wants to return to work sooner.

If the employee is unable to return to work for reasons related to childbirth, the leave can be extended for six weeks (for a total of 12 weeks).

Termination of pregnancy: Employees can take up to six consecutive weeks of leave starting on the date a pregnancy ends. An employer may request a note from a doctor or nurse practitioner that says when the pregnancy ended.

If the employee is unable to return to work for reasons related to the pregnancy ending, the leave can be extended for six weeks (for a total of 12 weeks).


Parental leave

Employees can take up to 62 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Both parents can take one full period of parental leave.

Parental leave can begin at any time within 78 weeks of a baby being born or a child being placed. It can be extended by up to 5 weeks if the child needs more care due to a physical, psychological, or emotional condition.

An employer may ask for proof that an employee is entitled to parental leave or an extension of parental leave – for example, they can ask for a certificate from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Pregnant employees can take maternity leave and parental leave. A pregnant employee can take up to 61 weeks of unpaid parental leave after their maternity leave:
 

  • 17 weeks of unpaid maternity leave

PLUS
 

  • Up to 61 weeks of unpaid parental leave

For a total of 78 weeks (about 18 months)

Parental leave must begin immediately after maternity leave ends unless the employee and employer agree to a different date.

An employee can take up to 5 days of unpaid leave in each employment year (an employment year begins on the date the employee started work) to help with the care, health, or education of a child under the age of 19 in their care.

An employee can also ask for this type of leave to care for the health of any other member of their immediate family.

Family responsibility leave does not accumulate from year to year.

Employees are entitled to take up to 27 weeks of unpaid compassionate care leave within a 52-week period to care for a family member who is terminally ill.

Step 1: The employee must request the leave from their employer. They do not have to make the request in writing or to give the employer advance notice. However, the employee should speak with their employer about the need to take the leave when they first become aware of it.

Step 2: The employee must get a medical certificate that states the family member has a serious medical condition and is at risk of death within 26 weeks. They must give the employer the certificate as soon as it is reasonably possible to do so. They are not required to do this before taking the leave.

The 52-week period starts on the Sunday of the week that the certificate is given, or from the Sunday of the week that the employee first takes leave.

Step 3: The employee takes the leave. If the employee takes a leave before getting the medical certificate, the time taken will be included in the 52-week period covered by the certificate.

Step 4: The leave can end in three ways, whichever comes first:
 

  • On the last day of the week in which the family member dies
  • After the employee has had 27 weeks off within the period of 52 weeks – the employer doesn't have to give more leave during that 52-week period
  • 52 weeks after the period begins – even if the employee has not taken 27 weeks of leave, the employer is not required to give any more leave until the employee shows another medical certificate

If the family member does not die within the 52-week period, an employee may take more leave after they get a new medical certificate stating that the family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks.

Example: Frank’s wife, Suzanne, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the doctor says she has two months left to live. The doctor gives Frank a certificate he can use to ask for time off work to care for Suzanne. Frank asks his boss for 27 weeks of unpaid leave, starting immediately and his boss agrees. Suzanne dies 11 weeks later. Frank’s leave ends on the Saturday of that week. Frank can contact his employer and ask for up to 3 days of bereavement leave.  Frank’s boss has kept his job for him and must contact Frank to arrange for his return to work.

An employee can take unpaid leave to care for a family member whose health has significantly changed as a result of an illness or injury, and the life of the family member is at risk. The employee can take up to 36 weeks to care for a child and up to 16 weeks to care for a family member over the age of 19.

Step 1: The employee must request the leave from their employer. They do not have to make the request in writing or to give the employer advance notice. However, the employee should speak with their employer about the need to take the leave when they first become aware of it.

Step 2: The employee must get a medical certificate and give it to their employer as soon as is reasonably possible. The certificate does not need to be given to the employer before taking the leave.

The medical certificate must provide the following information:
 

  • The health of the family member has significantly changed and as a result, the life of the family member is at risk
  • The care or support of the family member can be provided by someone who is not a medical professional
  • The period of time the family member will need care or support. The employee can only take leave that is equal to this period of time and get another certificate if it is for less than the maximum leave time allowed

The 52-week period starts on the first day of the week that the certificate is given, or from the first day of the week that the health of the family member significantly changed.

Step 3: The employee takes the leave. If the employee takes a leave before getting the medical certificate, the time taken will be included in the 52-week period covered by the certificate.

Step 4: The leave ends on the last day of the week in which the family member dies or 52 weeks after the leave began – whichever comes first.

If the life of the family member is still at risk at the end of the 52-week period, an employee may take more leave after they get a new medical certificate.

Employees can take up to 3 hours of paid leave to be vaccinated against COVID-19. If necessary, they can take additional paid leave for additional doses.

Employees are entitled to this leave no matter how long they have been employed.

Paid leave is retroactive to April 19, 2021.

How to calculate paid leave for vaccination

If an employee takes this leave, the employer needs to pay the employee at least their average hourly wage for each hour of leave they take, up to 3 hours. To calculate their average hourly wage, use the following formula: 

Hourly wage = amount paid ÷ hours worked

Base the calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the leave started. Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay, paid vacation days and paid sick days. Don't include overtime. This hourly wage rate must be at least minimum wage.

 

COVID-19 - Paid sick leave (no longer available)

This leave is no longer available. COVID-19 sick leave was available between May 20, 2021 and December 31, 2021. Eligible employees can now take paid leave due to illness or injury.

Employees were entitled to this leave, even if their employer didn't qualify for reimbursement. The government-administered reimbursement program for employers is now closed.

Employees were entitled to this leave no matter how long they had been employed.

An employee could take up to 3 days of paid leave between May 20, 2021 and December 31, 2021 if they were unable to work for any of the following reasons:
 

  • They had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and were following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse
  • They were in isolation or quarantine and were acting by following an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control, or guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada
  • The employer had directed them not to work due to concern about exposure to others

How to calculate an average day's pay

If an employee qualified for this leave, the employer must pay at least an average day’s pay for each day of paid leave taken. To calculate an average day's pay, use the following formula:

Total wages ÷ number of days worked = an average day's pay

Base the calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the first day of the leave. Include vacation days.

Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay, and paid vacation. Don't include overtime.

An employee can take paid illness or injury leave for reasons related to personal illness or injury, including COVID-19.

An employee doesn't need to be employed for a certain amount of time to take this leave. An employee can take unpaid, job-protected leave related to COVID-19 if they're unable to work for any of the following reasons:

  • They are assisting a dependant being vaccinated against COVID-19
  • They have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse
  • They are in isolation or quarantine and are acting in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control, or guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada
  • The employer has directed an employee not to work due to concern about exposure to others
  • They need to provide care to an eligible person for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare, or similar facility closure
  • They are outside of BC and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions
  • They are more susceptible to COVID-19 in the opinion of a medical professional because of an underlying health condition, ongoing treatment, or other illness and are receiving Canada recovery sickness benefits for the leave

Unpaid leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in British Columbia. This means that if they've taken time off work because of COVID-19 since January 27, 2020, they’re protected from losing their job under the new law. During this public health emergency, they can take this job-protected leave for as long as they need it, without putting their job at risk.

Once it is no longer needed, this leave will be removed from the Employment Standards Act.

An employer may ask for reasonably sufficient proof that an employee is entitled to a COVID-19 leave. They cannot require an employee to provide a certificate or proof that an employee has received a vaccine. Employers can require medical notes in the context of issues such as return-to-work situations or for accommodation purposes.

"Reasonably sufficient proof" is determined based on the unique circumstances of the case, including the duration of the leave and the availability of evidence. Some examples of proof may include:

  • Documentation showing travel that requires quarantine or isolation
  • Official public health information advising quarantine or isolation (for example, a screenshot or recording of the announcement)
  • A copy of an order to isolate, issued to the employee 
  • A screenshot of the applicable order of the Public Health Officer, guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control, guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada

Employers should allow a reasonable timeframe for an employee to provide proof. For example, an employee might have limited ability to gather documents if they are in isolation or quarantine. However, if the employee has electronic evidence that can be sent from home, it may be reasonable for the employee to send it while on leave.

Employees who are also a reservist for the Canadian Forces are entitled to 20 days of unpaid leave in a calendar year for the following reasons:
 

  • Being deployed to a Canadian Forces operation outside of Canada
  • Participating in pre or post-deployment training activities
  • Being deployed to assist with an emergency or its aftermath in Canada

Employees must give their employer four weeks’ written notice that includes the start and end date for their leave. If they get less than four weeks’ notice of deployment, the employee must give as much notice as possible.

If training activities are extended, the employee must give the employer notice four weeks before the date the leave was to have ended.

If deployment is extended, the employee must give the employer notice four weeks before the date the leave was to have ended, or as soon as possible.

If the employee wants to return to work sooner than they originally said, they must give the employer at least one week of notice.

An employee can take up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave if their child disappears as the result of a crime (e.g. a kidnapping). The employee may take leave in different units of time with the employer’s consent.

The leave ends:
 

  • 14 days after the child is found alive
  • On the date the child is found dead – the employee then can take leave respecting the death of a child
  • At the end of the 52 weeks off – or, if the employee has taken time off in different units, the last day of the last unit of time

The leave also ends if it is probable that the child’s disappearance was not the result of a crime or if the employee is charged with a crime in relation to the child’s disappearance.

An employee is entitled to 104 weeks of unpaid leave if their child dies. The leave starts on the date of the child’s death. In the case of a child who has disappeared, leave begins on the date the child is found dead. The employee may take leave in different units of time with the employer’s consent.

The leave ends after 104 weeks off, or if the employee has taken time off in different units, the last day of the last unit of time.

The leave also ends if the employee is charged with a crime in relation to the child’s death.

An employee can take up to 5 days of paid leave and 5 more days of unpaid leave per calendar year if they are impacted by domestic or sexual violence. If necessary, an employee can take up to 15 more weeks of unpaid leave. This leave also applies to parents of a child or dependent impacted by this kind of violence.

The right to this leave doesn’t depend on how long an employee has been employed – it isn’t something that may or may not be granted at an employer’s discretion.

How to calculate paid leave

While on paid leave, an employee earns an average day’s pay for each day of leave:

an average day's pay = total wages ÷ number of days worked

Base the calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the leave started. Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay, paid vacation days and paid sick days. Don't include overtime.

An employee can take up to 3 days of unpaid leave if an immediate family member dies. This leave:
 

  • Does not have to be consecutive days
  • Does not need to be for attending a funeral
  • Does not have to start on the date of death

An employee can take unpaid jury duty leave to attend court as a juror.

 


What you can do

If you're having issues at work, find out what you can do: