Compassionate care benefits begin

Federal government's compassionate care leave benefits now let workers take time off to care for dying family members

Canadians returning to work this week came back to more compassionate workplaces.

That’s because the federal government’s new compassionate care benefits came into force on Jan. 4, 2004. Employees can now take time off work, collecting Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, to care for a family member who is gravely ill.

The special benefit is administered by the department of Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSD) through the EI program. (Human Resources Development Canada, the agency that previously ran the program, was recently split into two new departments — HRSD and the Department of Social Development.)

As of Jan. 4, compassionate care benefits may be paid up to a maximum of six weeks to a person who has to be absent to provide care or support to a gravely ill family member with a significant risk of death within six months.

The compassionate care leave benefit will be paid out as if that person was collecting EI benefits during that period. Including the usual two-week waiting period, that adds up to eight weeks of leave in total.

Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon have already acted to bring their own labour codes in line with the changes at the federal level, and the other provinces are expected to soon follow.

Below are the eligibility requirements under the federal compassionate care leave program.


To be eligible, employees must apply and show that:

•regular weekly earnings from have work have decreased by more than 40 per cent; and

•they have accumulated 600 insured hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of their last claim. (This period is called the qualifying period.)

The qualifying period is the shorter of the 52-week period immediately before the start date of the claim or the period since the start of a previous EI claim if that claim started during the 52-week period.

A medical certificate, stating that the ill family member has a “significant risk of death within six months” and that the ill person needs one or more family members to provide emotional support, arrange health care or directly provide health care is also necessary.

Who qualifies as a family member?

Employees are eligible to receive compassionate care benefits to care for:

•their child or the child of her spouse or common-law partner;
•their spouse or common-law partner;
•their mother or father;
•their father’s wife or mother’s husband; and
•the common-law partner of their father or mother.

Under the legislation, common-law partner is defined as a person who has been living in a conjugal relationship with that person for at least one year.

For detailed information about the federal government's new compassionate care leave benefit, visit

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