Employers often wonder how to handle requests for leaves of absence from employees.

This requires understanding the various options available depending on the terms of employment and benefit plans, but also obligations under employment standards legislation and human rights legislation. This balancing act can become burdensome and lead to liability for employers if mishandled. 

The Type of Leave 

The type of leave is the most important factor to consider when planning next steps following a request for leave. If an employee requests a leave related to their health, it could be captured by the broad definition of “disability” under human rights legislation. 

Where an employee engages a protected ground such as “disability”, employers have a legal duty to accommodate the employee up to the point of undue hardship. This is a high burden for employers to meet. Accordingly, employers should be aware of their human rights obligations where the nature of the leave relates to the employee’s health. 

Options for Compensation During the Health-Related Leave 

In addition, assuming the health-related leave will be accommodated by the employer, the next question is whether and how the employee will be paid during the leave of absence. For example:

  • Employers may have short-term and/or long-term disability plans through a benefits provider that cover such circumstances;
  • If there was a workplace injury that caused the leave, workers’ compensation insurance may provide compensation; and
  • If the above are not relevant, the employee may be able to use paid entitlements to which they are entitled pursuant to their employment contract. 

If none of the above options are relevant, the employee may choose to seek medical employment insurance benefits from the Government of Canada to receive pay during the leave as most statutory protected leaves under provincial employment standards legislation are unpaid. Furthermore, such leaves are generally restricted in terms of duration and have strict conditions that must be met. 

Other Types of Leave 

Of course, not all leaves of absence are health related. Provincial employment standards legislation provides for several other protected leaves such as bereavement, reservist, compassionate care, and family caregiving, to name a few. If the conditions in the legislation are met for such leaves, they must be granted by the employer (generally without pay). 

Even if the conditions for a leave are not specifically met, and there is no legal requirement to grant the leave under human rights legislation or otherwise, employers may offer flexibility, depending on business needs, to improve retention and employee morale. 
If you have questions about how to handle employees’ requests for leave, please contact a SpringLaw lawyer.