Late last year, the Government of Alberta quietly announced that Bill 203, the Employment Standards (Compassionate Care Leave) Amendment Act, 2012, would come into force on February 1, 2014.
Bill 203 was introduced to the Alberta Legislature on November 1, 2012. More than 18 months later, Bill 203 passed third reading and received royal assent on May 27, 2013. With the coming into force of these amendments, Alberta becomes the final province or territory in Canada to introduce job-protected compassionate care leave for its employees.
As is the case in Alberta with maternity, parental, and reservist leave, an employee absent from work on compassionate care leave cannot be dismissed or laid off. The employee is also entitled to resume employment at the conclusion of the compassionate care leave in the same position and with all of the same earnings and other benefits the employee enjoyed prior to the leave starting (or the employer must provide the employee with comparable alternative work).
Under the new provisions, an employee who has completed at least 52 consecutive weeks of service with an employer is entitled to unpaid leave for up to 8 weeks to provide care or support to a seriously ill family member. The employee must be the primary caregiver of the ill family member. The new amendments define “family member” as the spouse or common law partner of the employee, a child of the employee or the spouse or common law partner of the employee, a parent of the employee or the spouse or common law partner of the employee, or any other person who is a member of a class of persons designated by the regulations. The regulations have expanded the definition to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and other relations including persons who the employee considers to be like a close family member whether or not related by blood. To be a “primary caregiver” the employee must be an individual who has primary responsibility for providing care or support to the serious ill family member.
Alberta’s compassionate care leave regime takes a somewhat restrictive approach to eligibility for leave. While some other provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland) require an employee to work a minimum period before being eligible for compassionate care leave, no other jurisdiction requires an employee to work as long as Alberta and many provinces and territories have no such eligibility requirement at all.
Other jurisdictions also take a broader view of eligible relationships. In British Columbia, for example, employees can take leave to care for seriously ill or injured aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. In Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, employees can take leave to care for sons-in-law or daughters-in-law. Most jurisdictions also include a “catch all” provision that permits leave to care for a close relative or someone that the employee considers to be like a close relative.
To be eligible for leave in Alberta, the employee must also provide a certificate issued by a physician which states that the ill family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks and that the ill family member requires the care or support of one or more family members. Requiring a medical certificate is a common element in all jurisdictions although the certificate is sometimes not required unless the employer makes a request.
Typically, in Alberta an employee will need to give their employer at least 2 weeks’ notice of when the compassionate care leave will commence, but circumstances may necessitate a shorter notice period. Employees can split their leave into 2 periods of compassionate care leave provided the total time away from work does not exceed 8 weeks and any single period of leave is no less than 1 week.
The new amendments to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code are welcome developments that bring Alberta up to speed with the rest of the country. Employers and employees alike should familiarize themselves with the unique eligibility requirements in Alberta so that they can be prepared when the changes take effect on February 1, 2014.