Providing unpaid leave from work for employees

The Employment Standards Act requires employers to grant employees periods of unpaid leave. An employee does not need to work for a specified period to qualify for leave. Listed here are the most common types of leave from work and what you need to know as an employer.


Pregnancy leave

A pregnant employee is entitled up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave. This leave may start no earlier than 11 weeks before the expected birth date, and must end no earlier than six weeks after the birth date unless the employee requests a shorter period.


Parental leave for birth and adopting parents

A birth mother who takes pregnancy leave is entitled to 35 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave. A birth mother must begin her parental leave immediately after her pregnancy leave ends, unless she and the employer agree otherwise. 

A birth mother who does not take pregnancy leave, a birth father, or an adopting parent is entitled to up to 37 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave. The leave can begin anytime within 52 weeks of the birth or placement of the child.

Please note: The Act says that a request for pregnancy or parental leave must be made in writing at least four weeks before the proposed start date.  However, the courts and the Employment Standards Tribunal have said that failure to give written notice does not affect the employee's entitlement to the leave. 


Family responsibility leave

An employee is entitled to up to five days of unpaid leave in each employment year to meet responsibilities related to the care, health or education of any member of the employee's immediate family. "Employment year" means a year beginning on the date the employee commenced employment. Family Responsibility Leave does not accumulate from year to year.


Compassionate care leave

An employee can take up to eight weeks of unpaid leave within a 26 week period to care for or support a gravely ill family member. The employee must obtain a medical certificate which states that the family member is gravely ill with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks. 

According to Employment Standards, a family member is defined as someone who is:

1. in relation to an employee:

  • a member of an employee's immediate family;
  • an employee's step-sibling, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew;
  • a current or former foster parent, foster child, ward or guardian; or
  • the spouse of an employee's sibling or step-sibling, child or step-child, grandparent, grandchild, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, current or former foster child or guardian.

2. in relation to an employee's spouse:

  • a parent or step-parent, sibling or step-sibling, child, grandparent, grandchild, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, current or former foster parent, or current or former ward; and

3. anyone who is considered to be like a close relative regardless of whether or not they are related by blood, adoption, marriage or common law partnership.

Bereavement leave

An employee is entitled to up to three days of unpaid leave on the death of a member of the employee's immediate family. These days do not have to be consecutive, or start on the date of death. Immediate family is defined by Employment Standards as a spouse, child, parent, guardian, sibling, grandchild or grandparent of an employee; and any person who lives with the employee as a member of the employee's family.

Jury duty

An employee who is required to attend court as a juror is considered to be on unpaid leave for the period of the jury duty.

Reservists' leave

An employee who is a reservist is entitled to unpaid leave if the employee is deployed to a Canadian Forces operation outside Canada, is engaged in pre- or post-deployment activities either inside or outside Canada, or is deployed inside Canada to assist in dealing with an emergency or its aftermath.

The employee must give the employer four weeks' written notice of the date the leave will begin and end. If the employee receives less than four weeks' notice of a deployment, he or she must give the employer as much notice as is practicable.

Important to note

If an employee is on any of the leaves listed above, employment is considered continuous for the purposes of calculating annual vacation and termination entitlements, as well as for pension, medical or other plans of benefit to the employee. With the exception of reservists' leave, an employer must continue to make payments to any such plans unless the employee chooses not to continue with his or her share of the cost of a plan. 

The employee is entitled to all increases in wages and benefits that the employee would have received if not on leave. An employer may not terminate an employee, or change a condition of employment, because of a leave or jury duty without the employee's written consent. When the leave or jury duty ends, an employee must be returned to his or her former position or to a comparable position.  It is the employer's responsibility to contact the employee to make arrangements for the employee's return to work.

For more information on unpaid leave, please see the BC Employment Standards Fact Sheet.
If you need further help, do not hesitate to contact your CFIB Business Counselor at or phone 1-888-234-2232.