Caring for a Sick Family Member? 4 Leaves of Absence Every Employee Should Know About

Most people know about maternity leaves and personal sick leaves. But if you need time off to care for a sick family member, there are four important leaves of absence available under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the ESA) that you should know about.

What is a Leave of Absence?

A leave of absence is a period of time that you’re permitted to take off from work. Under the ESA, employees have the right to take job-protected leaves of absence in certain circumstances.

What does this mean for you as an employee? Your employer is required to let you take these leaves if you qualify. And when you come back from your leave, your employer must, in most cases, give you back the same job. And if that job no longer exists, they must give you a comparable job.

Your employer also can’t penalize you for taking the leave. This means they can’t threaten you, fire you, or impose any other penalties on you for either taking the leave or planning to take the leave.

Leaves of Absence When A Family Member is Sick

Ontario’s employment standards law requires employers to provide the following leaves of absence to employees who need time off to provide care or support for specified family members. While these leaves of absence are available to most employees, note that there may be rules that apply to certain occupations.

Family responsibility leave

A family responsibility leave of absence entitles you to take up to three days of unpaid leave in any calendar year due to a specified family member’s illness, personal injury, medical emergency, or other urgent matter. Scheduled elective surgery qualifies as an illness or sickness, but in most cases, cosmetic surgery does not.

To be eligible for family responsibility leave, you must have worked for your employer for two consecutive weeks.

You can also take a family responsibility leave of absence because of an urgent matter related to a specified family member. Examples of what might be considered urgent matters include a babysitter or a caregiver for an elderly grandparent calling in sick and a situation where a parent or grandparent has been victimized in a criminal act.

Family caregiver leave

If you need to take time off to provide care or support for a specified family member, you may be eligible to take up to eight weeks of unpaid time off under the family caregiver leave provisions.

Unlike family responsibility leave, family caregiver leave does not require you to be employed by your employer for a certain length of time, and eligibility is open to you whether you are a full-time, part-time or term contract employee.

To be entitled to this family caregiver leave, you will need to obtain a certificate from a qualified health practitioner stating that your family member has a serious medical condition. The medical condition itself does not have to be specified.

Family medical leave

If you are eligible for family medical leave, you can take up to 28 unpaid weeks off in any 52 week period. As with the family caregiver leave, there is no length-of-employment requirement, and eligibility is open to all employees covered by the Employment Standards Act.

To qualify for this leave, you must need the leave to provide care or support to a specified family member. You will also need to obtain a certificate from a qualified health practitioner that states the family member has a significant risk of dying over the next 26 weeks due to a serious medical condition.

Family medical leave is a shared leave, which means the 28 weeks of leave available must be shared by any employees in Ontario who are providing care and support for the same family member. For example, if your spouse is taking 15 weeks of family medical leave to care for your sick child, you will only be entitled to take 13 weeks of family medical leave to care for the same child.

Critical illness leave

Critical illness leave provisions allow you to take unpaid time off to care for a specified family member who is critically ill. You can take up to 37 weeks off in any 52-week period to care for a critically ill minor child, and up to 17 weeks off to care for a critically ill adult. A child qualifies as a minor child if they are 18 years of age or younger.

All employees who have been employed by their employer for at least six (6) consecutive months and who are covered by the Employment Standards Act may be entitled to critical illness leave, whether they are full-time, part-time, permanent, or contract workers.

For critical illness leave, you will need to obtain a certificate from a qualified health practitioner that states:

  • the name of the minor child or adult;
  • that this person is either critically ill or has suffered a critical injury;
  • that this person is in need of the care and support of at least one family member; and
  • the period of time during which this care and support will be required.

Like family medical leave, critical illness leave is also a shared leave, so the full amount of leave available must be shared between all employees in Ontario providing care and support to the same family member.

Specified Family Members

Eligibility for these leaves of absence depends on whether the person who is in need of care falls within a specified list of family members.

For family responsibility leaves and family caregiver leaves, you may be eligible for the leaves if the affected family member is:

  • your spouse
  • your (or your spouse’s) parent, step-parent, or foster parent
  • your (or your spouse’s) child, step-child, or foster child
  • your (or your spouse’s) grandparent or step-grandparent
  • your (or your spouse’s) grandchild or step-grandchild
  • your child’s spouse
  • your brother or sister
  • a relative who is dependent on you for care or assistance

For family medical leaves and critical illness leaves, the specified family members for whom you may take the leave includes the family members mentioned above, as well as the following:

  • your step-brother or step-sister;
  • your brother-in-law, step-brother-in-law, sister-in-law, or step-sister-in-law;
  • your (or your spouse’s) daughter-in-law or son-in-law;
  • your (or your spouse’s) aunt or uncle;
  • your (or your spouse’s) niece or nephew;
  • the spouse of your aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or grandchild;
  • a person who considers you to be like a family member.

If you’re requesting family medical leave or critical illness leave to care for a person who considers you to be ‘like family’, your employer is permitted to ask you to complete a compassionate care benefits attestation form.

For More Information about Leaves of Absence and to find out if you Qualify, Contact Haynes Law Firm in Toronto

If you have an ill or injured family member in need of care, it can be a challenging time for you as an employee. Knowing what leaves of absence may be available to you can help reduce your stress and help you and your family develop a proper care and support plan.

Contact Haynes Law Firm to speak with a knowledgeable employment lawyer and see if you qualify to take a leave of absence from work to care for a sick family member. Contact us online or by phone at 416-593-2731.