Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Employment Standards Regulation have been amended to include compassionate care leave. The amendments became effective February 1, 2014. Similar legislation already exists in other Canadian provinces and in the Canada Labour Code, for those employers falling within the federal jurisdiction. 

Although many employers may have offered leave to an employee to care for a critically ill family member either informally or through an internal policy, the Code now provides clear statutory obligations on both employers and employees.

The amendments will allow an employee who is the primary caregiver of a seriously ill family member to take an unpaid, job-protected leave of up to eight consecutive weeks. In order to qualify, the employee must have worked for the employer for a period of at least 52 consecutive weeks (part-time or full-time). In addition, the employee must provide their employer with a physician’s certificate stating that the family member has a serious medical condition and that there is a significant risk that the family member will die within 26 weeks. The leave may be taken consecutively or in two periods, so long as it fits into the 26-week period established by the physician’s certificate.  The leave period must be at least one week long.

The definition of “family member” in the Code includes:

  • a spouse or common-law partner;
  • a child of the employee or a child of the employee’s spouse or common-law partner;
  • a parent of the employee or the parent’s spouse or common-law partner; and
  • any other classes of persons designated in the Regulations.

 The Regulations expand on this definition to include: siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and any other person considered to be like a close relative to the employee.

  • An employee must give two weeks’ notice of their intention to take leave and provide the physician’s certificate in advance, unless circumstances do not allow them to do so. In addition, an employee must provide two weeks’ notice of the date that they plan to return to work, unless the employer agrees to a shorter notice period. During a compassionate care leave, an employee is considered to continuously employed for the purposes of determining any entitlements set out in the Code.

Provided that the employee meets the eligibility requirements, an employer must grant compassionate care leave and may not terminate or lay off an employee once the leave begins. Once the employee returns from the leave, they are entitled to be reinstated in their previous position or a comparable position. Employees may also qualify for Employment Insurance while on leave.

Employers should become familiar with the new obligations concerning compassionate care leave and ensure any existing policies and procedures are in accordance with the Code.