What should an employer do if a worker needs to be off work long term to care for a sick relative?
By Jeffrey R. Smith
When a family member falls seriously ill, it can be a trying time.
The stress can affect an individual’s concentration at work. And it can be worse for the employee if she has to assume some of the responsibility of caring for that relative. In situations like this, compassionate care leave is often the solution.
Employment standards legislation in most Canadian jurisdictions has enshrined paid compassionate care for employees and job protection for that leave, if certain standards are met. The exception is Alberta, which has no such provision at this point.
In most provinces and in the Canada Labour Code, employees are entitled to at least eight weeks of leave over a six-month period — more in Saskatchewan and Quebec — to care for a seriously ill relative who is close to death.
Employees can even apply for employment insurance benefits of up to six weeks, following a two-week wait, in that six-month period. This can help an employee deal with a tough and emotional situation that can not only affect her personal life but also her productivity at work.
But is that enough, or is it too much?
Providing paid leave to take care of an ill relative is a benefit that can be helpful for employees. But in many cases, a serious illness can continue for a long time. If the period of paid leave elapses and an employee must continue to care for the relative, how long should the job be protected? It could be considered unfair to dismiss an employee who is going through a lengthy period of having to deal with a family illness, but is it fair for the employer to keep that employee’s job open if the employee can’t come to work?
If caregiving responsibilities prevent an employee from being able to work for the foreseeable future and the employee can’t make alternate arrangement, the employment contract may be frustrated.
It’s a delicate situation when an employee is faced with a family medical crisis that can put a physical, emotional and professional burden on the employee. But what should the employer do when it becomes a burden for the employer and its operations? If the employee doesn’t come back to work after the legislative leave period and wants to take more unpaid leave, is it frustration of employment?
Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. He can be reached at email@example.com.