While the discussions around the reasons employees need to miss work are getting more specific in many provinces, leave options remain fuzzy to non-existent from a government perspective for many emergency scenarios.
On Wednesday, Ontario passed a new bill that includes expanding personal emergency leave to 10 days per year for all employees, with at least two paid days per year for employees who have been employed for at least a week. Prior to the new bill, the law provided for 10 unpaid days of job-protected emergency leave if the employer regularly employed 50 people or more. Under the new bill, the leave is available to all employees, regardless of employer size. Also, while employers retain the right to ask for some kind of proof that an emergency did arise, they’ll no longer be able to request a doctor’s note.
What constitutes an emergency is quite specific, and the Ontario government does offer guidance. As to their own health, employees can take leave due to illness, injury or a medical emergency. The provision extends to taking time off to care for immediate family members and extended family members who are dependents. As well, the death of an immediate or extended family member, or an urgent matter related to them, also apply.
For example, the provision wouldn’t apply to an employee wishing to skip work for a sister’s wedding but a break-in at an elderly parent’s house would qualify, according to the guidance. The situation must be out of the employee’s control and, if not addressed, could lead to serious negative consequences, including emotional harm, the guidance stipulates.
If the leave provided by an employer already exceeds the new government provision, it supersedes the new regulations. The government’s guidelines specifically note it will stay out of telling employers how to integrate the new provisions into their existing leave policies.
Some employers are projecting the two paid days as a major budget line item. The Toronto Transit Commission, for example, has denoted a $4.1 million net impact on its 2018 operating budget. That amount relates to the number of staff who took two unpaid emergency leave days in 2016 and is relies on the assumption that, “if they took them unpaid, they will more than likely take them now [that] they get paid for them,” says Susan Sperling, manager of corporate communications at the TTC, suggesting the number is the minimum cost exposure the organization faces as it’s difficult to quantify how many more employees may take the two days of paid leave.
Karl Littler, vice-president of public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, doesn’t think employers need to worry about people taking the extra paid leave for illegitimate reasons. “I would not expect that it will have massive impact in terms of people taking leaves that they weren’t properly entitled to,” he says.
Given that the new emergency leave mainly provides for any health-related scenarios for employees themselves, it essentially reads as short-term sick leave with a few other legitimate reasons for absence thrown in. But it’s also notably separate from compassionate care leave, which accounts for longer-term situations in caring for family members. So what do other provinces make available?
Alberta is also making changes with a new provision for five days of unpaid leave per year. The personal and family responsibility leave, which will come into effect Jan. 1, 2018, will provide for “personal emergencies and caregiving responsibilities related to education of a child,” according to a release.
Prince Edward Island is unique in Canada in that it does impose a mandatory single paid sick day, provided the employee has been with the employer for at least five years. Before the provision took effect in 2009, employees had to complete six months with an employer before they could take three unpaid days of sick leave. As for the Yukon, it has 12 days of unpaid sick leave per year, while the Northwest Territories and New Brunswick provide for five days.
Manitoba and Nova Scotia both provide for three days of unpaid family leave, which includes personal illness and family responsibilities. Newfoundland and Labrador lumps together similar family responsibility leave with personal sick days, providing seven unpaid days in total.
Quebec provides for leave due to obligations relating to the health, custody or education of a child or the child of a spouse, as well as the health of a close relative. The leave amounts to 10 unpaid days.
British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nunavut have nothing in the category of short-term emergency leave related to sickness, injury or other factors.
On a much broader scale, Nova Scotia has an unpaid leave provision for when the government declares a state of emergency related to health or other issues. The job-protected leave is unpaid but it continues until the emergency no longer prevents employees from performing their jobs.
“The labour standards code was amended in 2009 to create an unpaid emergency leave in response to concerns about a possible H1N1 pandemic,” says Lisa Jarrett, a Nova Scotia government spokesperson. Indeed, during the 2009/10 flu season, the province reported 739 lab-confirmed H1N1 cases, with 255 hospitalizations due to the virus and five related deaths. Ontario has had a similar declared emergency leave in place since 2006.