Changes to Unpaid Leave Periods in British Columbia

Changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) came into force on May 30, 2019, which have introduced two new job protected unpaid leave periods: Critical illness or injury leave and Leave respecting domestic or sexual violence.

Critical illness or injury leave: Employees may now take unpaid leave to provide care or support to a family member, where they provide a medical certificate. Employees taking leave to provide such care to family members under 19 years of age may do so for up to 36 weeks. Where the family member is 19 years of age or older, the employee may take up to 16 weeks.

Leave respecting domestic or sexual violence: Employees or eligible persons who have experienced domestic or sexual violence may request leave for a number of prescribed purposes including the need to seek medical attention or legal assistance. Employees taking leave for this purpose may do so regardless of how long they have been employed. Employees have an entitlement of up to 17 weeks of such leave per calendar year, subject to certain restrictions as to how such leave may be scheduled.

The introduction of these leave periods comes on the heels of amendments to the Employment Standards Act that came into force on May 17, 2018, which included the following changes:

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:  Increased to a 27 week leave period (previously 8 weeks).

The previous amendments also created the following 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.

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