Understanding Compassionate Leave In Ontario

By Krista DeKuyper | May 30, 2024 | Caregivers

Navigating the complexities of employment leave can be challenging, especially when faced with the serious illness of a loved one. In Ontario, compassionate leave, formally recognized as “family medical leave” under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), provides employees with a vital safety net during such difficult times. This leave ensures that employees can dedicate their time and energy to family members in need. Understanding your rights, eligibility, and the available financial assistance options can help you make informed decisions during these critical periods.

What Is Compassionate Leave In Ontario?

In Ontario, compassionate leave, or family medical leave, is a provision under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). This type of leave is designed to allow employees time off to provide care or support to family members who are critically ill or facing a significant health crisis. This type of leave is designed to provide employees with the ability to be with and support their loved ones during very challenging times without the fear of losing their job. As a result, Employers cannot penalize, dismiss, or threaten to dismiss an employee because they took or intend to take a compassionate leave. Employees who take compassionate leave are entitled to return to the same job they had before the leave or to a comparable one if their previous job no longer exists. The maximum amount of leave that can be taken is 28 weeks. The 28 weeks can be taken in one continuous period or intermittently in blocks of time (e.g., days or weeks) as needed, adding up to a total of 28 weeks.

understanding compassionate leave in ontario for your family members

Am I Eligible For Compassionate Leave In Ontario?

Here are some of the basic eligibility requirements for compassionate leave in Ontario:

  • Medical Condition of the Family Member: The family member must have a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within a specified period.
  • Employment Status: Most employees who are covered under the ESA are eligible for family medical leave. This includes full-time, part-time, permanent, and contract employees. Some exceptions include certain students in work-related programs and employees under federal jurisdiction, such as those working in transport, banking, and broadcasting industries, among others. Instead of the ESA, these employees are governed by the Canada Labour Code. There are also professionals exempt from ESA provisions by regulation, such as lawyers and doctors. 
  • Relationship to the Ill Family Member: compassionate leave can be taken to provide care or support to a specified family member who is critically ill. Eligible family members include: spouse, parent, step-parent, or foster parent, Child, step-child, or foster child, Grandparent or step-grandparent, Grandchild or step-grandchild, Sibling or step-sibling, or any other relative who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance.
  • Required Documentation: An employee looking to take compassionate leave must provide medical documentation in order to validate the severity of the ill family member’s condition. They may also need to provide documentation that confirms the employee’s relationship to the ill family member is within the ESA’s requirements. For example, a spouse could provide a marriage certificate. 

Will I Get Financial Assistance For Compassionate Leave?

Yes, employees in Ontario can receive financial assistance during their compassionate leave through the federal Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefits. This benefit is administered by the federal government and helps replace a portion of the employee’s earnings during the leave. As of June 2024, the Compassionate Care Benefits will provide 55% of an employee’s average weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount of $668 weekly. Eligible employees can receive benefits for up to 26 weeks within a 52-week period. There are certain criteria that must be met in order to qualify for federal financial assistance during compassionate leave.

being there for your family with compassionate leave

Eligibility Requirements For Financial Support 

  • The employee must have worked a minimum number of insurable hours, typically 600 hours, in the qualifying period. This will usually be in the last 52 weeks or since the start of the employee’s last EI claim.
  • The employee must provide a medical certificate from a qualified health professional indicating that the family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks.

Other than EI Compassionate Care Benefits, there are other financial support options available for employees looking to take compassionate leave. Firstly, employers may offer additional paid leave or other supplemental benefits for employees on compassionate leaves. Check the policies and benefit plans provided by the employer, or ask the employer themselves to confirm whether or not they can offer financial assistance. There are also private insurance options, which will be explored thoroughly later in the article. 

What If My Compassionate Leave Needs To Be Longer Than 28 Weeks? 

Unfortunately, once the employee has used 28 weeks of their leave within the 52-week period, they are no longer entitled to be protected by the ESA’s family medical leave provisions. In this scenario, the employee would need to wait for the next 52-week period to requalify for compassionate leave. They would still need to meet the eligibility criteria in order to do so. 

If you cannot wait for the next 52-week period, you may be able to supplement your leave with other forms of job-protected leave that require similar criteria. These forms of leave include:

  • Personal Emergency Leave: For short-term absences due to personal illness, injury, or urgent matters related to specific family members.
  • Critical Illness Leave: Allows eligible employees to take time off to care for a critically ill child or adult family member.
  • Bereavement Leave: Provides time off following the death of a family member. This can be helpful in an instance where the employee’s family member passed during the course of their compassionate leave. 
understanding how compassionate leave in ontario helps you care for your family

Private Insurance For Compassionate Leave In Ontario

With the limits imposed on the federal EI compassionate care benefits, it will not be sufficient enough for many families. In this case, employees can turn to private insurance options for enhanced financial support during compassionate leave. This coverage is typically offered through disability insurance policies or specific add-ons/enhancements to existing insurance plans. Here are some of the options and considerations for private insurance related to compassionate leave:

  • Short-Term Disability Insurance: Typically covers the policyholder for their own illnesses or injuries that temporarily prevent them from working. Some short-term disability policies allow for add-ons or riders that provide benefits in situations where the policyholder needs to care for a critically ill family member.
  • Long-Term Disability Insurance: Generally covers prolonged disabilities of the policyholder. Certain long-term disability policies may include caregiver benefits that provide financial assistance if you need to take time off to care for a family member.
  • Critical Illness Insurance: Pays out a lump sum if the insured person is diagnosed with a covered critical illness. This payment can be used as needed, including supporting family care obligations. The lump sum payment offers flexibility to address various financial needs, including taking unpaid leave to care for a loved one.

Not all private insurance plans will include caregiver insurance as part of its typical coverage plan. Caregiver insurance is usually supplemented via insurance add-ons. You will have to verify that your insurance explicitly covers situations related to compassionate leave, whether directly or not. Depending on the timing of your compassionate leave and insurance coverage, you will need to consider your insurance’s deductibles and waiting period. 

Contact our seasoned insurance brokers to find you an insurance plan suited for your specific needs, whether that be caregiver coverage, mental health coverage, or the basic dental and prescription coverage. Our brokers are here to find the best coverage options for you and provide professional support through the insurance quoting and purchasing process. 

Conclusion: Navigating Your Options

Compassionate leave in Ontario offers an essential lifeline for employees needing to care for critically ill family members, securing both their jobs and peace of mind. While the ESA provides a robust framework for up to 28 weeks of job-protected leave, additional financial support through federal EI Compassionate Care Benefits and private insurance options can further ease the burden. By staying informed about your rights and exploring all available resources—whether through employer benefits or supplemental insurance—you can ensure that you and your loved ones are supported during these challenging times. Reviewing your options and planning ahead can make a significant difference in managing both personal and professional responsibilities effectively.