Leave of absence policies are meant to provide employees with work-life balance and in certain circumstances, to give employees needed time away from work in urgent or compelling circumstances. Some employers may also grants leaves for educational or career development.
Certain types of leaves may be at the discretion of the employer, and managers may balance operational needs against an individual’s leave request. Other types of leaves, however, are non-discretionary, and an employee has a legal right to take the time off of work. It is fundamental to any leave of absence policy to distinguish between those types of leaves that are discretionary and those that are not.
Certain leaves of absence are compulsory under applicable employment standards legislation. In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) sets out various categories of job-protected leaves, which include the following:
- Pregnancy leave
- Parental leave
- Personal emergency leave
- Family caregiver leave
- Family medical leave
- Critically ill child care
- Organ donor leave
- Reservist leave
- Crime-related child death or disappearance leave in circumstances where a child has died or gone missing as a result of crime
Additionally, under the Ontario Juries Act, an employee who is summoned to attend court as a juror, is entitled to an unpaid leave.
The purposes of the leaves, their length and their eligibility criteria vary. However, all of these leaves are non-discretionary, meaning that if the employee in question is entitled to take the leave, the employer must grant it.
Some employers may choose to pay an employee for all or part of a mandatory leave or provide top-up benefits to supplement employment insurance income, but this is not mandatory.
Under the ESA, employers are required to continue making contributions to the employee’s group benefit plans. This includes ongoing contributions to pension, life and extended health insurance, accidental death and dental plans, if applicable. Furthermore, employees must allow the employee to continue accrue service and seniority during the leave period.
Most importantly, employees are entitled to be reinstated to their employment following a compulsory leave. If the employee’s job has been eliminated, the employer is required to reinstate the employee to a comparable position.
Provincial employment standards legislation also sets out minimum requirements governing vacation leaves. In Ontario, employers are require to provide employee with at least two weeks of vacation leave and vacation pay in the amount of 4% of gross wages.
Employers must provide the vacation time, even if an employee does not ask to take it. Vacation time may be waived only if an employee provides their written agreement to forego vacation and the agreement is approved by the Ministry of Labour. The employer is still required to process the employee’s vacation pay, regardless of whether the vacation time has been properly waived.
If the employee’s earnings fluctuate over the course of the year, for example, the employee may earn commissions, incentive pay, overtime, in addition to base salary, employers must ensure that when calculating vacation pay owed, that the employee receives a minimum of 4% vacation pay on total gross wages, including variable compensation.
Leaves Related to Disability and Family Caregiving
Separate from the above, employers have a general duty under human rights legislation to accommodate an unpaid leave of absence in the case of an employee who is unable to work because of a disability. Similarly, employers have an obligation to accommodate time off for an employee is unable to work on account of family caregiving responsibilities. There is no specific time limit to these types of leaves. The length of the leave depends on the nature of the individual’s needs. It is important that any leave policy allow the employer flexibility in granting additional time off where needed in these situations.
Generally, a leave policy should be applied fairly and consistently across the workforce. A protocol should be in place for managers to assess leave requests and identify when a leave is compulsory and when it is within their discretion to approve the time off.
Author: Jonquille Pak, Whitten & Lublin