Ontario introduces compassionate care leave legislation

Would allow employees to take up to eight weeks of job-protected leave to care for dying family members

Ontario has introduced legislation that would provide up to eight weeks of job-protected, unpaid time off work for those taking care of a gravely ill family member.

“This legislation, if passed, would provide real, positive change for employees who need to take time off work to care for a family member who is nearing the end of life,” said Chris Bentley, the province’s labour minister. “Our people’s health is our most precious resource. We share a responsibility to protect it from harm and care for it in times of need.”

The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Family Medical Leave), 2004, would provide up to eight weeks of job-protected leave for employees who wish to stay home to care for a gravely ill family member at significant risk of dying within 26 weeks. Anyone in Ontario covered by the Employment Standards Act, 2000, including part-time workers, would be eligible to take this job-protected time off work.

The Ontario government said providing job-protected leave also builds prosperity by creating a more positive, loyal and productive workforce for employers.

“Employees who are able to take leave to care for gravely ill family members tend to return to their workplaces better able to focus on their jobs and are likely to be more loyal to their employer,” the government said in a press release. “The direct cost of absenteeism due to high levels of caregiver stress has been estimated at just over $1 billion a year in Canada, with indirect costs of an additional $1 to $2 billion.”

“Years ago, as a society, we decided to support families in the happy times at the beginning of life with maternity and parental benefits,” said Bentley. “This is a statement that we are prepared to support people at a difficult time of life, at the end of life.”

Ontario’s legislation would allow employees to access new federal Employment Insurance benefits. The federal government’s new compassionate care benefits came into force on Jan. 4, 2004.

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.

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