Leaves of absence and employer responsibilities in Ontario

The Ontario Employment Standards Act 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 in Ontario

Pregnancy leave

Pregnant women are eligible to take an unpaid pregnancy leave of up to 17 weeks. 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. Full-time, part-time and contract employees are eligible for this leave of absence provided they were hired at least 13 weeks preceding the estimated date of delivery.

Maternity parental leave

In Ontario, both parents of a new child are eligible for unpaid maternity/parental leave, over and above the pregnancy leave offered to birth mothers. Full-time, part-time and contract employees are eligible for this type of leave of absence.

The full 35 to 37 week maternity/parental leave can be taken by one parent, or shared between both parents at any time within 52 weeks of the birth. For example, a birth father may take parental leave while the mother is on pregnancy leave, or after she returns to work.

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.

In Ontario, 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 Ontario Employment Standards Act.

A bereavement leave of absence

Ontario does not specifically provide a bereavement leave of absence. However, employees who work in companies that regularly employ 50 or more employees may use their entitlement to 10 days of unpaid personal emergency leave (see below).

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

Ontario employers with more than 50 employees are required to offer unpaid personal emergency leave of up to 10 days each calendar year. 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 in Ontario are entitled to up to eight weeks of 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 26 weeks.

A certificate from a qualified health practitioner confirming the condition and risk of death must be provided to the employer as soon as possible. If the family member does not pass away within the 26-week period, an additional eight weeks is available with an updated medical certificate.

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).

A voting leave of absence

Qualified voters in a federal, provincial or municipal election are entitled to three consecutive 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.

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 must have at least six consecutive months of service with the employer. 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 Ontario employers should know


Ontario Ministry of Labour. (n.d.). Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act, 2000. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/pubs/guide/publicholidays.php.
Government of Canada. (2014, May 22). Having a Baby. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/lifeevents/baby.shtml.