On February 1, 2014, the Compassionate Care Leave amendments to the Alberta Employment Standards Code come into effect. The amendments allow an employee to take unpaid job-protected leave of up to eight weeks to care for a seriously ill family member. As a prerequisite of leave, the employee must have completed at least 52 consecutive weeks of employment with the employer. While on compassionate care leave, the employee is entitled to receive Employment Insurance.

The meaning of "family member" is broadly defined by the amendments and includes (but is not limited to):

  • a spouse or partner of the employee;
  • the adult interdependent partner of the employee;
  • a child of the employee or a child of the employee's spouse or partner;
  • a parent of the employee or a spouse or partner of the parent;
  • a grandparent of the employee or the employee's partner;
  • a grandchild of the employee or the employee's partner;
  • an uncle or aunt of the employee or the employee's partner; and
  • a person, whether or not related to the employee, who considers the employee to be like a close relative or whom the employee considers to be like a close relative.

To become eligible for this leave, the employee must have completed at least 52 consecutive weeks of employment with the employer. In addition, an employee must first obtain a certificate from a physician stating that the family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks. Except in emergency circumstances, the employee is required to give the employer a copy of the physician's certificate prior to taking leave.

Employees are required to provide their employer with two weeks' notice prior to their leave, unless circumstances necessitate a shorter period. The leave itself can be split in two so long as the second period of leave ends no later than 26 weeks after the first period began.

Employees returning from compassionate care leave are also required to provide two weeks' written notice of the date that the employee intends to resume work. An employer may postpone an employee's return to work for up to four weeks if the employee fails to comply with the notice requirement.

Significantly, employers are prohibited from laying off or terminating an employee who has started compassionate care leave. If the business of the employer is suspended during an employee's compassionate leave, but subsequently resumed within 52 weeks, the employer is obliged to reinstate the employee to his or her former position or provide the employee with alternative work with no loss of seniority or other benefits.

The Compassionate Care Leave amendments add to maternal, parental, and reservist leave entitlements already available in Alberta and bring the Employment Standards Code in line with employment standards legislation elsewhere in Canada. Both employers and employees should acquaint themselves with their new rights and obligations created by the amendments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.