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: August 14, 2020

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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; though, 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 than ones that are covered by federal Employment Insurance benefits.

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 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 quarantine or self-isolation 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
  • Their employer has directed them not to work due to concern about their exposure to others
  • They need to provide care to their minor child or a dependent adult who is their child or former foster child 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

The COVID-19 leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in British Columbia. During this public health emergency, employees can take this job-protected leave for the reasons above 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 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 your calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the leave started. Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay and paid vacation days. Don't include overtime.

To better support employees on an ongoing basis, the Employment Standards Act provides up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for employees covered by the Employment Standards Act who can’t work due to personal illness or injury. This permanent change provides British Columbians with job-protection for personal illness or injury similar to other jurisdictions in Canada.

This leave applies to employees who have worked for their employer for at least 90 days. If requested, employees need to provide enough information to satisfy their employer that they are ill or injured and therefore entitled to the leave.

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 child birth, the leave can be extended for six weeks (for a total of 12 weeks).

Termination of a 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 five 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 five 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.

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 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 the get a new medical certificate stating that the family member has a serious medical condition with 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 three 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 up to three 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 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.

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 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: