Under the Employment Standards Act (ESA), there is no statutory entitlement to pay your employees for bereavement leave in Canada. If employees fall under the ESA, they have the right to take up to 2 days of unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year for the death of immediate family members.
As an employer, you cannot threaten, fire or penalize an employee for taking bereavement leave in Canada. Their job must still be there when they get back from their leave of absence.
Who is considered an immediate family member?
The personal emergency leave can be taken as bereavement leave when there is a death of an immediate family member. This includes:
- Their siblings
- Their spouse
- Their or their spouse’s parent, step-parent or foster parent
- Their or their spouse’s grandparent or step-grandparent
- Their or their spouse’s child, step-child or foster child
- Their or their spouse’s grandchild or step-grandchild
- Their child’s spouse
- A dependant relative
Does an employee have to notify you before taking bereavement leave in Canada?
As with all leaves of absence, they must notify your employer as soon as possible. Death is usually unpredictable so advanced notice should not be expected, but they should still notify you if they will not be able to come into work.
Can an Employee Take Half A Day of Bereavement Leave in Canada?
Under the ESA, bereavement leave for half a day can still be considered a whole day of leave by their employer. In addition, you cannot prorate the two day entitlement. So even if an employee is employed by you part way through the year, they are still entitled to the full 2 days of leave for the rest of the calendar year. The 2 days do not have to be taken consecutively but they cannot be carried over to the following year.
Can I Ask My Employee for Evidence for Bereavement Leave in Canada?
Under the ESA, it states that “an employer may require an employee who takes leave under this section to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances that the employee is entitled to the leave.” While this does not state specifically what reasonable is, the aim of the legislation is to balance the rights of both employer and employee. The factors that we would recommend considering are:
- Length of leave requested
- Frequency of absences
- Cost to you as an employer
So for example, if an employee is requesting a single day off then it is likely that their word is sufficient evidence.
Are there any exceptions to the ESA when it comes to Bereavement Leave?
Yes, there are still several industries that fall outside of the ESA and instead fall under the Canada Labour Code. These include:
- Federal government workers
- Bank tellers
- Long haul truck drivers
Employees who are under the Canada Labour Code are in fact entitled up to three days paid bereavement leave in Canada after 3 consecutive months of employment.
Can I Include Paid Bereavement Leave as Part of An Employee’s Contract?
If you decide to include bereavement leave in your employment contract or collective agreement, it must be greater than that of the ESA. For example, you may choose to include 3 paid days of bereavement leave per calendar year. However, you could not decide to include 1 unpaid day of bereavement leave as this is less than that of the ESA.
Essential HR recommends including a Bereavement Leave Policy as part of your Policies & Procedures. This will clarify your employee’s requirements when it comes to bereavement leave at your company. Download a free copy of our sample bereavement policy below.
Some best practises surrounding bereavement leave include:
- If you offer paid “emergency days”, add a clause in your policy that allows employees to use their paid emergency days to compensate for bereavement days for both individuals that fall in the list above or for close friends and relatives such as aunts, uncles and cousins.
- If your benefits provider has an “Employee Assistance Program” included in their service package, review those offerings with the employee and encourage them to reach out.
- If your employee is entrusted with being the estate administrator, help them plan ahead and consider the time commitment that is included. Review with them what vacation, personal days or personal unpaid leave of absence can be arranged.