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Sick leave is different from infectious disease emergency leave. Sick leave is unpaid and can be taken for a personal illness, injury or medical emergency. Infectious disease emergency, can be taken for specific reasons related to COVID‑19. Note that paid infectious disease emergency leave was available from April 19, 2021 to March 31, 2023. Unpaid infectious disease emergency leave continues to be available.
For more information about the rights and obligations related to paid or unpaid infectious disease emergency leave, read the infectious disease emergency leave chapter of this guide.
Most employees have the right to take up to three days of unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year due to a personal illness, injury or medical emergency. This is known as sick leave. Special rules apply to some occupations.
Employees are entitled to up to three sick leave days per year once 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 actually earned while working.
Reasons a sick leave may be taken
An employee who is entitled to sick leave can take up to three unpaid days of leave each calendar year due to personal illness, injury or medical emergency.
Illness, injury or medical emergency
An employee can take sick leave for illnesses, injuries and medical emergencies for themselves. It does not matter whether the illness, injury or medical emergency was caused by the employee or by external factors beyond their control. For example, an employee who sprained their ankle while showing off to friends when waterskiing would still be entitled to sick leave, even though the injury may have been a result of their own carelessness.
Generally, employees are entitled to take the leave for pre-planned (elective) surgery if it is for an illness or injury, even though it is scheduled ahead of time and not a medical “emergency.”
Employees cannot take the leave for cosmetic surgery that isn’t medically necessary or is unrelated to an illness or injury.
Contracts that provide paid or unpaid sick leave
If an employment contract, including a collective agreement, provides a greater right or benefit than the sick 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 sick leave standard in the ESA applies to the employee. However, if an employment contract provides for something similar to sick leave (for example, paid “sick days”), and if the employee takes the leave under the employment contract, the employee is considered to have also taken sick leave under the ESA.
A contract only provides for one paid personal sick day per year. It does not include job-protected time off for any other reason. This contract does not provide a greater right or benefit than the sick leave provisions. This means that the employee is entitled to three days of job protected sick leave per calendar year.
If the employee takes one paid sick day off under the employment contract, the employee has also taken one sick leave day under the ESA. That means the employee would have two sick leave days left in the calendar year under the ESA, and no more paid sick days under the employment contract. The paid sick day counts against both the employment contract entitlements and against the ESA’s sick leave entitlement. This is true whether the leave under the contract of employment is paid or unpaid.
Interaction with other leaves
Sick leave, family responsibility leave, bereavement 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 statutory leave, even if the event that triggered it is a qualifying event under more than one leave.
Length of sick leave
Employees are entitled to up to three full days of job protected unpaid sick leave every calendar year, whether they are employed on a full or part-time basis.
There is no pro-rating of the three day entitlement. An employee who begins work partway through a calendar year is still entitled to three days of leave for the rest of that year.
Employees cannot carry over unused sick leave days to the next calendar year. The three 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 sick leave, the employer can count it as a full day of leave.
Example: Part-day sick leave
Val comes to work as usual but develops a severe migraine in the early afternoon. She leaves work to go home, rest and take medication.
Val has the right to be on sick leave for the half-day. Her employer does not have to count the absence as a full day of leave, but can if they want.
The employer is only allowed to count the half-day absence as a full day of leave when determining if Val’s three day entitlement has been used up. The employer, for example, still must pay Val 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 sick 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 sick leave.
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.
An employer may require an employee to provide a medical note from a health practitioner such as a doctor, nurse practitioner or psychologist when the employee is taking the leave because of personal illness, injury or medical emergency if it is “reasonable in the circumstances”.
However, the employer can ask only for the following information:
- the duration or expected duration of the absence
- the date the employee was seen by a health care professional
- whether the patient was examined in person by the health care professional issuing the note
Employers cannot ask for information about the diagnosis or treatment of the employee’s medical condition.
Rights during leave
Employees who take sick 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 sick leave. See “Rights for employees taking pregnancy and parental leaves” in the “Pregnancy and parental leave” chapter of this guide.
Special rules regarding sick leave
Certain professionals may not take sick leave where it would constitute an act of professional misconduct or a dereliction of professional duty (for example, health practitioners). For a list of professions to which this special rule applies, please refer to the guide to special rules and exemptions.