Changes to Unpaid Leave Periods in British Columbia

Amendments to the Employment Standards Act came into force on May 17, 2018, that establish new circumstances in which British Columbia employees are entitled to unpaid leaves of absence and expand some existing leave periods already available to employees.

The amendments impact the following existing leave periods:

Pregnancy (Maternity) Leave Pregnant employees are able to begin unpaid job protected pregnancy leave 13 weeks before their expected due date (previously 11 weeks).  The total pregnancy leave period of 17 consecutive weeks has not changed.

Parental Leave:  Parental leave has been extended to align with the recently extended Federal EI parental benefit. The leave period:

  • allows birth mothers to begin up to 61 consecutive weeks of parental leave immediately after the end of the 17 week pregnancy leave, providing a total leave period of 78 weeks. This is considerably longer than the previous leave available to birth mothers, which provided a maximum protected leave period of 52 weeks to birth mothers (inclusive of pregnancy leave); and,
  • allows partners, non-birth parents or adopting parents to take up to 62 consecutive weeks of parental leave within 18 months of a child’s birth or adoption (previously 37 weeks).

Compassionate Care Leave:  Has been increased to a 27 week leave period (previously 8 weeks).

The amendments also create the following new periods of unpaid job protected leave:

Child death leave:  In the event of the death of a child (under the age of 19), parents are entitled to up to two years of job protected leave.

Crime-related child disappearance leave:  In the event a child disappears as a result of crime, parents are entitled to unpaid leave of up to 52 weeks.

Employers should consider how these changes impact their business and ensure leave policies are up to date.  In particular, for those employers offering “top-up” benefits to employees on maternity/parental leave, those arrangements may need to be reviewed in light of these new (and considerably lengthier) maternity/parental leave periods.

This article was provided by Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP. The information provided in this article is necessarily of a general nature and must not be regarded as legal advice. For more information about Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP, please visit