Most employees have the right to take up to two days of unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year because of the death of certain family members. This is known as bereavement leave. Special rules apply to some occupations.
Employees are entitled to up to two bereavement leave days per year after they have worked for an employer for at least two consecutive weeks. An employee who missed part of a day to take the leave would be entitled to any wages they earned while working.
Reasons bereavement leave may be taken
An employee who is entitled to bereavement leave can take up to two unpaid days of leave each calendar year because of the death of the following family members:
- spouse (includes both married and unmarried couples, of the same or opposite genders)
- parent, step-parent, foster parent, child, step-child, foster child, grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee's spouse
- spouse of the employee's child
- brother or sister of the employee
- relative of the employee who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance
Bereavement leave can be taken at the time of the family member’s death, or sometime later to attend a funeral or memorial service. It could also be taken to attend to estate matters.
Contracts that provide paid or unpaid bereavement leave
If an employment contract, including a collective agreement, provides a greater right or benefit than the bereavement leave standard under the Employment Standards Act (ESA), then the terms of the contract apply instead of the standard.
If the contract does not provide a greater right or benefit, then the bereavement leave standard in the ESA applies to the employee.
A contract provides one paid bereavement day per year. This contract does not provide a greater right or benefit than the bereavement leave provisions. This means that the employee is entitled to two days of job protected bereavement leave per calendar year.
If the employee takes one paid bereavement day off under the employment contract to attend the memorial service of a specified relative, the employee has also taken one bereavement leave day under the ESA. That means the employee would have one bereavement leave day left in the calendar year under the ESA, and no more paid bereavement days under the employment contract. The paid bereavement day counts against both the employment contract entitlements and against the ESA’s bereavement leave entitlement. This is true whether the leave under the contract of employment is paid or unpaid.
Interaction with other leaves
Bereavement leave, family responsibility leave, sick leave, family caregiver leave, family medical leave, domestic or sexual violence leave, critical illness leave, child death leave and crime-related child disappearance leave are different types of leaves. The purposes of the leaves, their length and eligibility criteria are different. See the other chapters of this Guide for more information on each leave.
An employee may be entitled to more than one leave for the same event. Each leave is separate and the right to each leave is independent of any right an employee may have to the other leave(s). This means that a single absence can only count against one ESA leave, even if the event that triggered it is a qualifying event under more than one leave.
Length of bereavement leave
Employees are entitled to up to two full days of job protected unpaid bereavement leave every calendar year, whether they are employed on a full or part-time basis.
There is no pro-rating of the two day entitlement. An employee who begins work partway through a calendar year is still entitled to two days of leave for the rest of that year.
Employees cannot carry over unused bereavement leave days to the next calendar year. The two days of leave do not have to be taken consecutively. Employees can take the leave in part days, full days or in periods of more than one day. If an employee takes only part of a day as bereavement leave, the employer can count it as a full day of leave.
Example: Part-day bereavement leave
Robin’s mother has died, and Robin tells her employer that she has to meet with a lawyer to deal with the distribution of the estate.
Robin has the right to be on bereavement leave for the half-day needed to travel to and from and attend the appointment with the lawyer. Her employer does not have to count the absence as a full day of leave, but can if they want. Robin does not have the right to take the entire day off as leave – even if his employer counted it as such – as she only needs half the day for the leave.
The employer is only allowed to count the half-day absence as a full day of leave when determining if Robin’s two day entitlement has been used up. The employer, for example, still must pay Robin for the half day that she worked, and has to include the hours worked to determine whether she worked overtime, or reached her daily or weekly limit on hours of work.
Generally, an employee must inform the employer before starting the leave that he or she will be taking a bereavement leave of absence.
If an employee has to begin the leave before notifying the employer, the employee must inform the employer as soon as possible after starting it. Notice does not have to be given in writing. Oral notice is sufficient.
While an employee is required to tell the employer in advance before starting a leave (or, if this is not feasible, as soon as possible after starting the leave), the employee will not lose the right to take the leave if they fail to do so.
Proof of entitlement
An employer may require an employee to provide evidence “reasonable in the circumstances” that they are eligible for bereavement leave. This may take the form of a death certificate, a notification from a funeral home, a published obituary, a copy of a printed program from a memorial service or communication from a legal office setting up an appointment to discuss estate matters.
What will be reasonable in the circumstances will depend on all of the facts of the situation, such as the duration of the leave, whether there is a pattern of absences, whether any evidence is available and the cost of the evidence. For example, if might not be reasonable to expect an employee who makes minimum wage to get a letter from a lawyer stating that the employee had to attend a meeting if the lawyer charges $25.00 for it.
Rights during leave
Employees who take bereavement leave are entitled to the same rights as employees who take pregnancy or parental leave. For example, employers cannot threaten, fire or penalize in any way an employee who takes or plans on taking a bereavement leave. See “Rights for employees taking pregnancy and parental leaves” in the “Pregnancy and parental leaves” chapter of this guide.
Special rules for bereavement leave
Certain professionals may not take bereavement leave where it would constitute an act of professional misconduct or a dereliction of professional duty (e.g. health practitioners). For a list of professions to which this special rule applies, please refer to the guide to special rules and exemptions.