Employers have increasing obligations for ensuring that their employees are able to balance their family responsibilities with their work responsibilities. 

On April 29, 2014, Bill 21, the Employment Standards Amendments Act (Leaves to Help Families), 2014 (the “Act”) received Royal Assent with full party support in the Ontario Legislature.  The Act will come into force on October 29, 2014 and will apply to all employers that are subject to the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

The Act will amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) to include three new circumstances in which employers will be required to provide unpaid leaves to employees and guarantee their jobs will be available when they return.  While the ESA already provides for Family Medical Leave, these new leaves include Family Caregiver Leave, Critically Ill Child Care Leave, and Crime-related Child Death or Disappearance Leave.

Under the Family Caregiver Leave provisions, employees will be entitled to take up to eight weeks of unpaid leave from work in each calendar year in order to provide care or support to individuals with a serious medical condition.  Presently, the list of individuals needing care or support which would qualify the employee for the leave includes:

  • The employee’s spouse.
  • A parent, step-parent or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • A grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  • The spouse of a child of the employee.
  • The employee’s brother or sister.
  • A relative of the employee who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance.
  • Any individual prescribed in regulations as a family member for the purposes of Family Caregiver Leave.

Under the Critically Ill Child Care Leave provision, employees who have been working for at least six consecutive months will be entitled to up to 37 weeks of leave without pay if they have a child, step-child, foster child or child who is under their legal guardianship who is critically ill. 

Under the Crime-related Child Death or Disappearance Leave, employees who have been working for at least six consecutive months will be entitled to up to 52 weeks of leave without pay if the employee’s child has disappeared as a result of a crime, and up to 104 weeks of leave without pay if their child has died as a result of a crime.   

In a continuing trend of support for the job security of employees struggling with family obligations, this legislation will add to obligations already imposed on employers including the provision of unpaid Family Medical Leave under the ESA, as well as the accommodation of family status imposed under Ontario human rights law, which presently requires employer accommodation of employees dealing with child care, elder care, or spousal support issues.