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Taking Time Off for Personal or Family Reasons - What you should know

What you should know

Your rights depend on two key factors

Two factors affect your rights to take time off work for personal or family reasons: 

  • whether you’re covered by the main law protecting workers in BC, the Employment Standards Act
  • your employment contract

Employment standards law

Below we explain leaves from work that are spelled out in the Employment Standards Act. This is the main law protecting workers in BC. Most workers in the province are covered by this law. But not everyone is. For example, independent contractors aren’t covered. Nor are people working for an employer regulated by the federal government, or working in certain licensed professions. To learn if this law applies to you, see our information on who’s covered by BC’s employment standards law.

Your employment contract

Second, your employment contract will typically set out the types of leaves you are entitled to, and on what terms. Every worker has an employment contract. The terms of your contract may be in a written agreement. Or they may be expressed in other ways, such as in: 

  • letters or emails you received from your employer before you started working
  • anything you’re asked to sign before or after you started working
  • an office policy manual or staff handbook
  • a collective agreement (if you’re a member of a union)

If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act, your employment contract can’t provide for less than what’s required under the Act. Whatever your contract says about leaves, it can't be any less than the minimum leave entitlements under the law (explained below). 

If you have family responsibilities

Workers covered by the Employment Standards Act are entitled to family responsibility leave

If you’re covered by this law (see who is), family responsibility leave provides up to five days of unpaid leave per year to meet your responsibilities to your family. Your reason for taking leave must be related to the care or health of an immediate family member. In the case of a child in your care, it can also be related to their education. 

Under the Act, “immediate family” members include your spouse or child, parent or guardian, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent. It also includes anyone who lives with you as a member of your family.

For example, you might take family responsibility leave if:

  • your child is too sick to go to school 
  • you have an appointment with a school counsellor to discuss your child’s behaviour in the classroom
  • you need to take your elderly, disabled parent to a medical appointment

Try to give your employer as much advance notice as possible. That way they can prepare for your absence.

Any time taken off on any day (even one hour) counts as one full day of leave taken. That is, unless you and your employer agree otherwise.

Under the Employment Standards Act, all new parents are entitled to take time off work when they have a baby or adopt a child. Two kinds of leave are available: maternity leave for birth parents, and parental leave for any parent. We explain these types of leave in our page on maternity and parental leave.

If you need to care for a family member who is ill, injured, or dying

“My mom had been battling cancer for a year. Her doctor told us the cancer was spreading and she didn’t have much time left. When I gave my employer a note from the doctor, they immediately granted my request to take compassionate care leave. I’m so grateful I could be there for my mom in her final days.”

– Mathew, Burnaby

Workers covered by the Employment Standards Act are entitled to up to 27 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member at risk of dying. This is called compassionate care leave

(Not sure if you’re covered by employment standards? We have information on who’s covered.)

Under this law, “family member” is widely defined, and includes immediate family, a long list of extended relatives, and anyone who you consider to be like a close relative. 

You must give your employer a medical certificate from a doctor saying the family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of dying within 26 weeks.

If your family member doesn’t pass away within 52 weeks of when you started leave, you can get an extension. You need to get another note from a medical practitioner saying your family member is at risk of dying within 26 weeks.

Doctors are required to respond in a timely manner to your request for a medical certificate. And the medical information they provide must be objective. That is, they aren’t allowed to advocate on your behalf, or provide their own personal opinion. These rules are set out in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC practice standards.

If a member of your family is critically ill or injured

Workers covered by the Employment Standards Act are entitled to unpaid leave to care for a family member who is critically ill or injured

(Not sure if you’re covered by employment standards? We have information on who’s covered.)

Under this law, “family member” is widely defined, and includes immediate family, a long list of extended relatives, and anyone who you consider to be like a close relative. 

The amount of leave depends on the age of the family member:

  • 36 weeks of unpaid leave if the family member is under age 19 
  • 16 weeks of unpaid leave if the family member is age 19 or older 

In order to be eligible, you must have a certificate from a medical practitioner stating the following:

  • the baseline state of health of the family member has significantly changed and their life is at risk due to illness or injury,
  • the care or support of the family member can be met by one or more persons who aren’t medical professionals, and
  • the period for which the family member requires care or support.

If your family member’s life remains at risk due to illness or injury after 52 weeks, you can get an extension. You need to get another note from a medical practitioner with the information described above. 

If a member of your family passes away

Workers covered by the Employment Standards Act are entitled to up to three days of unpaid leave when someone in their immediate family dies. This is referred to as bereavement leave. The three days don’t need to be consecutive. And they don’t need to begin on the date of death.

(Not sure if you’re covered by employment standards? We have information on who’s covered.) 

Under the Act, “immediate family” members include your spouse or child, parent or guardian, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent. It also includes anyone who lives with you as a member of your family.

If your child passes away or goes missing

Workers covered by the Employment Standards Act are entitled to take time off work if their child passes away. If you’re covered under the Act, you’re entitled to take an unpaid leave for up to 104 weeks.

Also under the Act, if your child disappears as a result of a suspected crime, you’re entitled to take an unpaid leave for up to 52 weeks. 

(Not sure if you’re covered by employment standards? We have information on who’s covered.)

If you’re a victim of domestic or sexual violence

If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act and are a victim of domestic or sexual violence, you’re entitled to take time off work. You’re entitled to up to 10 days of unpaid leave, which can be taken in units of one or more days or in one continuous period. In addition, you’re entitled to 15 weeks of unpaid leave.

“Domestic or sexual violence” includes:

  • physical abuse by an intimate partner or family member
  • psychological or emotional abuse (for example, intimidation or threats) by an intimate partner or family member
  • sexual abuse by any person

(Not sure if you’re covered by employment standards? We have information on who’s covered.)

If you’re called to jury duty

If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act and are required to go to court as a juror, your employer must give you unpaid leave for the time you spend on jury duty. 

(Not sure if you’re covered by the Act? We have information on who’s covered.)