The Employment Standards Act requires employers to grant employees the following periods of unpaid leave. An employee does not need to work for a specified period to qualify for leave.
A pregnant employee is entitled to up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave. This leave may start no earlier than 11 weeks before the expected birth date, and must end no earlier than six weeks after the birth date unless the employee requests a shorter period.
If pregnancy leave is not requested until after the birth of a child or after termination of the pregnancy, the employee is entitled to up to six consecutive weeks of leave beginning on the date of birth or termination date.
An initial period of leave may be extended up to six consecutive weeks if an employee is unable to return to work for reasons relating to the birth or termination of a pregnancy.
A request to return from leave earlier than six weeks after the birth must be made in writing at least one week before the proposed return date.
An employer may require an employee to provide a doctor’s certificate in support of a request for leave or a leave extension.
Parental leave for birth and adopting parents
A birth mother who takes pregnancy leave is entitled to 35 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave. A birth mother must begin her parental leave immediately after her pregnancy leave ends, unless she and the employer agree otherwise.
A birth mother who does not take pregnancy leave, a birth father, or an adopting parent is entitled to up to 37 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave. The leave can begin anytime within 52 weeks of the birth or placement of the child.
An initial period of parental leave may be extended up to five consecutive weeks if the child requires an additional period of parental care.
An employer may require an employee to provide a doctor’s certificate or other evidence that the employee is entitled to the leave or leave extension.
Request for Leave
The Act says that a request for pregnancy or parental leave must be made in writing at least four weeks before the proposed start date. However, the courts and the Employment Standards Tribunal have said that failure to give written notice does not affect the employee’s entitlement to the leave. Employees are encouraged to tell their employers the date they will be going on leave well in advance and to put it in writing to avoid misunderstandings.
Family responsibility leave
An employee is entitled to up to five days of unpaid leave in each employment year to meet responsibilities related to the care, health or education of any member of the employee’s immediate family.*
“Employment year” means a year beginning on the date the employee commenced employment.
Family Responsibility Leave does not accumulate from year to year.
Compassionate care leave
An employee can take up to eight weeks of unpaid leave within a 26 week period to care for or support a gravely ill family member.
The employee must obtain a medical certificate which states that the family member is gravely ill with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks.
“Family member” means someone who is:
- in relation to an employee:
- a member of an employee’s immediate family*;
- an employee’s step-sibling, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew;
- a current or former foster parent, foster child, ward or guardian; or
- the spouse of an employee’s sibling or step-sibling, child or step-child, grandparent, grandchild, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, current or former foster child or guardian.
- in relation to an employee’s spouse:
- a parent or step-parent, sibling or step-sibling, child, grandparent, grandchild, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, current or former foster parent, or current or former ward; and
- anyone who is considered to be like a close relative regardless or whether or not they are related by blood, adoption, marriage or common law partnership.
An employee is entitled to up to three days of unpaid leave on the death of a member of the employee’s immediate family.* These days do not have to be consecutive, or start on the date of death.
*“Immediate family” means the spouse, child, parent, guardian, sibling, grandchild or grandparent of an employee; and any person who lives with the employee as a member of the employee’s family.
An employee who is required to attend court as a juror is considered to be on unpaid leave for the period of the jury duty.
An employee who is a reservist is entitled to unpaid leave if the employee is deployed to a Canadian Forces operation outside Canada, is engaged in pre- or post-deployment activities either inside or outside Canada, or is deployed inside Canada to assist in dealing with an emergency or its aftermath.
The employee must give the employer four weeks’ written notice of the date the leave will begin and end. If the employee receives less than four weeks’ notice of a deployment, he or she must give the employer as much notice as is practicable.
If the deployment is extended, the employee must give the employer notice four weeks before the date the leave was to have ended, or as soon as practicable.
If the employee proposes to return to work earlier than originally specified, the employee must give the employer at least one week’s notice.
Employment considered continuous
If an employee is on any of the leaves referred to in this factsheet or is on jury duty, employment is considered continuous for the purposes of calculating annual vacation and termination entitlements, as well as for pension, medical or other plans of benefit to the employee.
With the exception of reservists’ leave, an employer must continue to make payments to any such plans unless the employee chooses not to continue with his or her share of the cost of a plan.
The employee is entitled to all increases in wages and benefits that the employee would have received if not on leave.
Conditions of employment to remain the same during leave
An employer may not terminate an employee, or change a condition of employment, because of a leave or jury duty without the employee’s written consent.
Return to work
When the leave or jury duty ends, an employee must be returned to his or her former position or to a comparable position. It is the employer’s responsibility to contact the employee to make arrangements for the employee’s return to work.
Ministry of Labour
Employment Standards Branch
Province of British Columbia
This factsheet has been prepared for general information
purposes. It is not a legal document. Please refer to
the Employment Standards Act and Regulation
for purposes of interpretation and application of the
law. June 2008.
For more information, please contact
the Employment Standards Branch.