Family caregiver leave
Family caregiver leave is unpaid, job-protected leave of up to eight weeks per calendar year per specified family member.
Family caregiver leave may be taken to provide care or support to certain family members for whom a qualified health practitioner has issued a certificate stating that they have a serious medical condition.
Family medical leave is another job-protected leave available under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) for employees with certain relatives who have a serious medical condition. One of the main differences between family caregiver leave and family medical leave is that an employee is only eligible for the latter if the family member who has a serious medical condition has a significant risk of death occurring within a period of 26 weeks. Employees may also be entitled to take critical illness leave to provide care or support to a minor child or adult who is a family member, whose baseline state of health has changed significantly and whose life is at risk from an illness or injury. Critical illness leave may be taken for up to 17 weeks to care for an adult, and up to 37 weeks to care for a minor child.
All employees, whether full-time, part-time, permanent, or term contract, who are covered by the ESA, may be entitled to family caregiver leave.
There is no requirement that an employee be employed for a particular length of time, or that the employer employ a specific number of employees for the employee to qualify for family caregiver leave.
Care or support includes, but is not limited to: providing psychological or emotional support; arranging for care by a third-party provider; or directly providing or participating in the care of the family member.
The specified family members for whom a family caregiver leave may be taken are:
- the employee’s spouse (including same-sex 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 or step-grandparent of the employee or the employee’s spouse
- a grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or the employee’s spouse
- a spouse of a child of the employee
- a brother or sister of the employee
- a relative of the employee who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance.
The specified family members do not have to live in Ontario for the employee to be eligible for family caregiver leave.
Qualified health practitioner
For family caregiver leave purposes, a qualified health practitioner is a person who is qualified to practice as a physician, registered nurse or psychologist under the laws of the jurisdiction in which care or treatment is being provided. In Ontario, this includes psychiatrists and nurse practitioners.
Different types of health practitioners may be able to issue certificates in different jurisdictions; it will depend on the laws of the jurisdiction.
The medical certificate
The employee does not have to have the medical certificate before they can start the leave, but a certificate must eventually be obtained. If a certificate is never issued, the employee will not be entitled to the leave. This means that the employee would not be entitled to any of the protections afforded to employees on family caregiver leave.
The certificate from the qualified health practitioner must name the individual and state that the individual has a serious medical condition. There is no requirement that the note specify what the medical condition is; it need only state that it is “serious.” This can include conditions that are chronic or episodic.
If a medical certificate sets out a period during which the individual will have a serious medical condition, the certificate will support absences as family caregiver leave during that period. If no period is set out, the certificate will support absences as family caregiver leave from the date it is issued until the end of the calendar year in which it is issued.
An employer is entitled to ask an employee for a copy of the certificate to provide proof that they are eligible for a family caregiver leave. The employee is required to provide the copy as soon as possible after the request.
The employee may wish to provide the health practitioner with the “Medical certificate to support entitlement to family caregiver leave, family medical leave, and/or critical illness leave” form. The health practitioner is not required to use this particular form; any certificate stating that the patient has a serious medical condition can be used.
The employee is responsible for obtaining and paying the costs (if any) of obtaining the certificate. The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development cannot assist the employee in obtaining the certificate.
Interaction with other leaves
Family caregiver, sick, family responsibility, bereavement, declared emergency family medical, critical illness, domestic or sexual violence, child death, and crime-related child disappearance are different types of leaves. The purposes of the leaves, their length, the individuals with respect to whom they can be taken and the eligibility criteria vary.
See the respective 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).
Length of family caregiver leave
A family caregiver leave can last up to eight weeks per calendar year for each specified family member. A “week” is defined as running from Sunday to Saturday.
The eight weeks can be taken consecutively or separately.
The employee may take leave for periods less than a full week (for example, single days, at the beginning, middle or end of a week), but if they do, they are considered to have used up one week of their eight-week entitlement. If the employee is on leave for two or more periods within the same week (for example, on leave on Monday and Thursday of the same week), only one week of the eight-week entitlement is used up.
The employee is entitled to be on leave only when the employee is providing care or support to a specified family member.
The employer cannot require the employee to take an entire week of leave if the employee only wants to take leave for a single day(s), cannot prevent the employee from working prior to taking a single day(s) of leave during a week, and cannot prevent the employee from returning to work after a single day(s) of leave during the week.
An employee must inform the employer in writing that they will be taking a family caregiver leave of absence.
If an employee has to begin a family caregiver leave before notifying the employer, they must inform the employer in writing as soon as possible after starting the leave.
If the employee does not take the eight-week leave all at once, the employee is required to provide notice to the employer with respect to each part of the leave.
Bella is going to take leave on eight consecutive Wednesdays. Bella is required to provide written notice to her employer of all eight days. She can do this by providing a single written notice that sets out all of the dates of leave, or she can provide separate notices.
While an employee is required to tell the employer in advance that they are taking a leave (or, if this is not possible, as soon as possible after starting the leave), the employee will not lose the right to take family caregiver leave if the employee fails to do so.
An employer may discipline an employee who does not properly inform the employer, but only if the reason for the discipline is the failure to properly notify the employer and not in ANY way because the employee took the leave.
Rights during and at the end of a family caregiver leave
Employers do not have to pay wages when an employee is on family caregiver leave.
Employees who take family caregiver leave are entitled to the same rights as employees who take pregnancy or parental leave. For example, an employer cannot threaten, fire or penalize in any other way an employee for taking, planning on taking, being eligible or being in a position to become eligible to take a family caregiver leave. See “Rights during pregnancy and parental leaves.”