Leaves of absence and employer responsibilities

The Employment Standards Act for your province or territory details employers’ responsibilities with respect to managing leaves of absence. As an employer, startups should consult this law and seek legal advice as required. The Act outlines a number of “what-if” scenarios that can help you navigate different circumstances.

Pregnancy and maternity/parental leaves of absence 

All pregnant, employed people are entitles to unpaid maternity leave. Two provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan) extend this same leave to adoptive parents.

All employed parents (birth and adoptive) are also entitled to unpaid parental leave. This leave can be taken by one or both parents, at the same time or one after the other. In some regions, both parents can each take one full period of leave; in other, they must share it.

Check the employment standards for your area for the specific information on amount of eligible leave for pregnancy and maternity leave.

Pregnancy leave

This leave may be taken at any point in the pregnancy, although it is usually requested to begin at or near the date of delivery.

In a difficult pregnancy, pregnancy leave will begin when the employee or their doctor determines it is appropriate. Refer to your employment standards act for more information.

Maternity/ Parental leave

Both parents of a new child are eligible for unpaid maternity/parental leave, over and above the pregnancy leave offered to those who have given birth. Full-time, part-time and contract employees are eligible for this type of leave of absence.

Depending on your location, the full maternity/parental leave can be taken by one parent or shared between both parents.

Employer responsibilities during pregnancy and maternity/parental leaves

Throughout pregnancy and maternity/parental leaves, the employer must maintain the employee contract as though the employee was still at work—the employees must experience no penalty. Throughout the leave, the employee will continue to accrue service and their benefits will be maintained. Upon their return from leave, the employee will be reinstated to their position.

Pay during pregnancy and maternity/parental leaves is administered by Employment Insurance, a federally managed program. To understand complete information about managing pregnancy and maternity/parental leaves, consult both Employment Insurance and the Employment Standards Act for your area.

Bereavement leave 

Province and territories differ when providing a bereavement leave of absence. Refer to your employment standards act for specific legislation around the number of days you must provide.

The loss of a family member is very emotional, and most employers offer a few days of leave, at least in the case of immediate family members. Whether or not it is a paid leave depends on the philosophy and resources of the employer.

From a business point of view, keep in mind that being caring and offering support when an employee is in need also serves as a good retention strategy. The thoughtfulness is truly appreciated.

Personal emergency leave

Employers with more with over a specific number of employees are required to offer unpaid personal emergency leave per calendar year. The number of days legislated depends on your province or territory. This leave of absence may be taken in case of illness, injury and other urgent personal matters. Emergency leave does not have to be taken on consecutive days.

Family medical/compassionate care leave

Employees are entitled unpaid family medical/compassionate leave to provide care and support to a specified, seriously ill family member who is at a significant risk of death within a specific timeframe. Refer to the employment standards act for your area for specifics about amount of time granted and other information about this benefit.

Jury duty

Employers are required to provide employees with time off for jury duty. Whether or not the employee is paid for the time off is at the employer’s discretion. Many employers offer a few days with full pay to support employees while they serve on a jury. If the employee’s absence would cause serious hardship to your startup, you can apply in writing to have jury duty postponed. Smaller organizations can build a better case for this than larger ones (who have more resources).

Voting leave of absence

Qualified voters in a federal, provincial or municipal election are entitled a specified number of hours off while the polls are open. While the employee must be paid for this absence, the employer has the right to grant the time off at their convenience. Because polls in many ridings now stay open until later in the evening, it may not be necessary to make special workplace arrangements. This should be evaluated for each election. Refer to the employment standards act for your area.

Reservist leave

Canadian Forces military reservists deployed to an international operation overseas or to certain emergency operations within Canada are entitled to an unpaid reservist leave.

To be eligible for a reservist leave of absence, the employee a specified length of service with the employer depending on their province or territory. The leave extends for as long as the military deployment takes.

Throughout reservist leave, the employee contract must be maintained as though the employee was still at work—they must experience no penalty. While serving on military duty, the employee will continue to accrue service and their benefits will be maintained. Upon their return from leave, they will be reinstated to their position.

Read next: Vacation policy: What employers should know


BC: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/employment-standards-advice/employment-standards/time-off/leaves-of-absence

AB: https://www.alberta.ca/job-protected-leaves.aspx

SK: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/business/employment-standards/job-protected-leaves/requirements-for-all-leaves

MB: https://www.gov.mb.ca/labour/standards/doc,unpaid-leave,factsheet.html

ON: https://www.ontario.ca/document/employment-standard-act-policy-and-interpretation-manual/part-xiv-leaves-absence

QC: https://www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca/en/working-conditions/leave

NB: https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/petl-epft/PDF/es/FactSheets/OtherLeaves.pdf

NS: https://novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/leaves.asp

PEI: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/topic/employee-leave-options

NL: https://assembly.nl.ca/legislation/sr/statutes/l02.htm

NWT: https://www.gov.nt.ca/careers/en/types-leave

YK: https://yukon.ca/en/employment/employment-standards/find-out-about-maternity-and-parental-leave

NU: https://www.canlii.org/en/nu/laws/stat/rsnwt-nu-1988-c-l-1/latest/rsnwt-nu-1988-c-l-1.html