Alberta is implementing it’s first job-protected bereavement leave as of Jan. 1, 2018.
In addition to the death of an immediate family member or of a spouse, the three-day unpaid leave is also available for the loss of a person the employee isn’t related to but considers to be like a close relative.
Bereavement leave is available for employees across most Canadian jurisdictions, and some of it’s even paid. While Ontario doesn’t provide leave specifically for bereavement, it categorizes it under its new personal emergency leave provision, which will come into effect Jan. 1, 2018. Besides Nunavut, all of the other jurisdictions have formalized bereavement leave in place, but no two policies across the country are exactly alike.
British Columbians get three days of unpaid leave for the death of an immediate family member; however, the Employment Standards Act doesn’t specifically define what immediate is. Three days of unpaid leave are also available under Manitoba’s rules, which specific the recipient must have worked for at least 30 days with the same company.
Employees in Saskatchewan must work for 13 weeks before they can take five days of unpaid bereavement leave for an immediate family member. They can take the leave only within a week of the funeral date. The province defines immediate family members as a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling or sibling’s spouse of the employee or his or her spouse.
The legislation widens the definition of spouse when it comes to married and common-law partners to include those ”in a relationship of some permanence if the person and the employee are the parents of a child.”
Yukon gives employees seven consecutive days of bereavement leave if the funeral of an immediate family falls within that week. In the Northwest Territories, if the funeral or memorial for a family member is local, the employee can take three days of unpaid bereavement leave. The territory provides seven days if the service is outside of the community where the employee resides.
Quebec provides for one day of paid leave and four days without pay for the death or funeral of a spouse, parent, sibling, child or a spouse’s child. Employees get just one day without pay for a child-in-law, a grandparent or grandchildren or a spouse’s sibling or parent.
Also in Quebec, the rules are different for the clothing industry, except in a retail establishment. For a spouse or a child, or a spouse’s child, parent or sibling, employees can get three days of paid leave and two days of unpaid leave; one day with pay for a grandparent or parent-in-law; and one day without pay for a child-in-law, a grandchild or a spouse’s sibling.
In the case of the suicide of a spouse or child, employees in Quebec can take job-protected leave for 52 weeks.
In Nova Scotia, employees can take five consecutive days of unpaid leave for the death of a spouse, parent, guardian, child, child under their care, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, parent-in-law, child-in-law or sibling-in-law. In New Brunswick, for the death of someone with whom the employee has a “close family relationship,” the employer must provide five consecutive days of unpaid leave. The legislation also specifies that the leave can begin no later than the day of the funeral.
In Prince Edward Island, an employee can take one day of paid leave and two days of unpaid leave for the death of a spouse, child, parent or sibling. For a grandparent, grandchild, sibling-in-law, parent-in-law, child-in-law, aunt or uncle, employees get three unpaid bereavement days.
Employees in Newfoundland and Labrador receive two days of unpaid leave for the loss of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, child-in-law or sibling-in-law. Once employees have worked with an employer for 30 days, they get an additional day of paid leave.
Despite the array of bereavement leave provisions across Canada, many employers choose to go beyond the minimum under such difficult circumstances, says Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell Ltd.
“Employers tend to be very flexible. So if the bereavement is your spouse or your child, they usually tend not to be hard and fast in terms of those three days,” she says, referring to the legal minimum in several provinces.
It’s a difficult situation to set rules about, says Allen. “For a very close family member, just on a practical basis, [the minimum] may not be enough, so that’s why I think the current situation is reasonably well handled by employers in terms of having it at that one- to three-day criteria and then the discretion up to a week after that,” she says.
“Each individual situation is so different that taking discretion out of it is never a good thing,” she emphasizes. But while some managers may feel they’re doing employees a favour by being flexible, Allen suggests they shouldn’t remain too distant as distress from a death in the family can sometimes turn into a more significant problem.
“You might think you’re doing something kind by just not noticing that they’re taking so much time off work but you’re doing a disservice by not allowing them to have access to the short-term disability services that might be available to them,” says Allen.
“If someone is off work for three weeks because they can’t cope with the situation, you don’t want to have the circumstance of them not having the right kind of support,” she adds.