On Feb. 1, 2014, Alberta will join other Canadian jurisdictions in requiring employers to provide compassionate care leave to employees. Amendments to Alberta's Employment Standards Code will provide eligible employees with up to eight weeks of unpaid leave to care for or support a seriously ill family member for whom the employee is the primary caregiver.

In order to qualify for compassionate care leave, an employee must provide his or her employer with a certificate from a physician stating that a family member of the employee has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks from the earlier of either the day the certificate is issued or the day the employee’s leave began. The certificate must also state that the family member requires the care or support of one or more family members. The employee must have completed at least 52 consecutive weeks of employment with his or her employer prior to going on leave.

Similar to other forms of statutory leave in Alberta, compassionate care leave is a job-protected leave, meaning that an employer cannot terminate the employment of an employee while on leave. Upon the employee’s return to work, the employer must either reinstate the employee to his or her former position or provide the employee with alternative work of a comparable nature at the same earnings and benefits as were provided to the employee prior to commencing leave.

In advance of the coming into force of the new compassionate care leave provisions in the Alberta Employment Standards Code, employers should review all relevant policies and procedures for compliance and update these materials as needed to ensure employees receive their minimum statutory entitlements.