What happens if you must take a day or two off because your child is sick with the cold or flu? In Ontario, generally, your job is protected for up to three days per year to care for a sick child. Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, which is legislation that protects workers, has a special program called Family Responsibility Leave.
Family Responsibility Leave gives parents the right to take up to three days off per year for any illness, injury, medical emergency or even any undefined “urgent matter” affecting a child without fear of reprisal. Essentially, Family Responsibility Leave is a broad catch-all job-protected leave for just about anything that requires the immediate attention of a parent to take time off work to attend to for their children. In that regard, caring for a child who is too sick to attend school falls under this broad rubric of Family Responsibility Leave.
Important: Family Responsibility Leave is the right leave for parents for short bits of time off work for generally non-serious illnesses affecting their children like cold and flu. But, to be clear, there are other leaves, as discussed below, for more serious illnesses and longer leaves.
Who is entitled to take a Family Responsibility Leave for sick children?
All employees in Ontario who have at least two weeks of service with their employer are entitled to Family Responsibility Leave.
Parents do not need a medical note for Family Responsibility Leave. Parents may have to provide “reasonable evidence” if they are pressed on the issue by their employer, but because it is not reasonable to go to a doctor for every cold or flu, a medical note is simply not required by law.
Is Family Responsibility Leave paid?
Employers do not have to pay employees when they take a day or two off for a sick child under the Family Responsibility Leave program. However, many employers choose to pay their employees anyway. Check your contract to see if you are paid for Family Responsibility Leave days (sometimes called “Personal Days” or “Emergency Days”).
How long is Family Responsibility Leave?
Parents are entitled to a maximum of three days of Family Responsibility Leave per year unless their contract provides for more days to take care of sick kids.
If the child’s illness is more serious than, for example, the cold, and a parent requires more days off from work, Ontario’s Employment Standards Act has other programs that extend the amount of job-protected leave parents can take to tend to their sick children.
- Parents who need more than three days to take care of sick children because the illness is serious can take eight weeks of Family Caregiver Leave; or
- Twenty-eight weeks of Family Medical Leave if the illness is an even more serious medical condition with a significant risk of death; or
- Thirty-seven weeks of Critical Illness Leave for the most serious cases where the child is critically ill.
Unlike Family Responsibility Leave, an employee must provide their employer with a medical note for all three of these other kinds of leave. Like Family Responsibility leave, all three of these other kinds of leave are unpaid unless the employer chooses to pay (or if the employee has insurance benefits).
How to ask for the day Off
Employees do not need to ask for Family Responsibility Leave. Employers have no choice, so it is not like employees have to seek permission.
However, by law, employees must tell their employers in advance that they will be taking family responsibility leave. If it is not reasonably possible to warn the employer in time, the employee should tell the employer as soon as practicable. An employee cannot be denied leave for failing to alert their employer, but they can be disciplined if it is reasonable to do so.
Employees do not need to put into writing their notice of going on Family Responsibility Leave. They can call in or let the employer know in person. But as a practical matter, an email usually works best. A short note that says “I will be taking a Family Responsibility Leave day today” will suffice. Employees do not have to tell the employer the reason for the leave. An employee who takes this leave is under no obligation to share their child’s medical information.
I am caring for a child who is sick. Can I get EI?
Technically, you can receive EI caregiver benefits if you leave work to care for a child. However, if it is a short leave of absence for less than three days such as to take care of a child with the cold for two days, then you will receive nothing from EI even if you qualify. EI has a one week “deductible”, meaning you only get EI funds for your second week of unpaid leave. In other words, if you return to work before the end of the one-week deductible period, you will receive no funds from EI. However, if you are taking a longer leave than three days for a sick child then you should of course apply for EI if you are eligible.
Can you take “sick leave” for a family member?
Technically, “Sick Leave” is a separate program in the Employment Standards Act, and it is for personal illnesses only, so you cannot take it for a family member. Rather, as described in this article, when a family member is sick, and you need a short bit of time off work, you should take Family Responsibility Leave.
Jeff is an employment lawyer in Toronto. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles.