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Taking time off for personal or family reasons

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Sometimes, we need to take time away from work to be with our loved ones when they need us most. The law offers different types of leave for these situations.

What you should know

Two factors affect your right to take time off work for personal or family reasons:

  • whether you’re covered by the BC Employment Standards Act (the main provincial law that protects workers)
  • your employment contract

The Employment Standards Act sets out minimum standards for working conditions — including leave — in BC. Most workers are covered. But not all are.

Workers who aren’t covered by the Act don’t have the same rights to leave as workers who are. If you’re unsure whether this law applies to you, we’re here to help. See who’s covered by BC’s employment standards law.

Your employment contract may also explain the types of leave you’re entitled to, and on what terms. Note that every worker has an employment contract, whether or not there’s a written agreement.

For example, the terms of your contract could come from what was in the job ad. Or any emails you exchanged with your employer when you were hired.

If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act, your contractual rights can’t be less than your rights under this law. In other words, you can’t contract yourself out of your entitlements under employment standards law. That includes leave for personal and family responsibilities.

If your contract gives you more rights than the minimums under the Act, then you’re entitled to those greater rights.

If you’re covered by BC’s employment standards law, you’re entitled to family responsibility leave.

You get up to five days of unpaid leave per year to meet responsibilities to your family. Your reason for taking leave must be related to the care or health of an immediate family member. (If you have a child in your care, it can be related to their education.)

Immediate family members include your spouse or child, parent or guardian, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent. It also includes anyone who lives with you as a member of your family.

Maybe your child is too sick to go to school. Or maybe you need to take your elderly, disabled parent to the doctor. These scenarios would qualify for family responsibility leave.

Caring for a loved one in their final days is a difficult but important responsibility for many. Workers covered by employment standards law are entitled to take up to 27 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a family member who’s at risk of dying. This is called compassionate care leave.

A family member includes anyone in your immediate family, a long list of extended relatives, and anyone you consider to be a close relative.

You’ll need to show your employer a doctor’s note saying that your family member is at risk of dying within 26 weeks.

You can also take leave if you need to care for a family member who’s critically ill or injured. (That is, if you’re covered by BC’s employment standards law.)

The amount of leave depends on the age of the family member:

  • 36 weeks of unpaid leave if they’re under age 19
  • 16 weeks of unpaid leave if they’re age 19 or older

To be eligible, you’ll need a doctor’s note.

Workers covered by BC’s employment standards law can take up to three days of unpaid leave when an immediate family member passes away. (The three days don’t need to be consecutive.) This is called bereavement leave.

Workers whose child passes away or goes missing are entitled to leave. So are victims of domestic or sexual violence. For more on these types of leave, check out our in-depth info on this topic. See taking time off for personal or family reasons.

If you’re covered by BC’s employment standards law and you need to go to court as a juror, your employer must give you unpaid leave for the time you’re on jury duty.

Work out problems

There are steps you can take if you run into problems taking time off to deal with personal or family responsibilities.

Step 1. Notify your employer

Step 2. Speak with your employer

Step 3. Write to your employer

Step 4. Make a complaint

Step 1. Notify your employer

Let your employer know in advance if you need to take leave from your job for personal or family reasons. If you’re asking for a type of leave spelled out in BC’s employment standards law (and you’re covered by this law), they must grant you leave.

Step 2. Speak with your employer

If your employer turns down your request, raise the issue with them. Make sure they fully understand your situation, and why you need to take some time off.

If you’re a bit anxious about approaching your boss directly, we’ve got some tips that might help. See our tips for talking to your employer.

Step 3. Write to your employer

If speaking to your employer in person doesn’t work, consider writing a letter. Describe your concerns, and explain things from your perspective.

For guidance on how to write an effective letter, we’ve got some tips. See our five tips for writing to your employer.

Step 4. Make a complaint

If you and your employer still haven’t been able to resolve the problem, you can make a formal complaint. Workers covered by BC’s employment standards law can start a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch.

We explain the steps involved. See making an employment standards complaint.

We have more detailed guidance on the types of leave covered here. See taking time off for personal or family reasons.

Who can help

Consider contacting this agency for help if you’re denied leave.

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Employment Standards Branch
Administers the law in BC that sets minimum standards for workers.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website

Getting legal advice can help you decide on your next step.

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Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Call 1-800-663-1919Visit website
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Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 1-877-762-6664Visit website
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People’s Law School
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  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in May 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Legal Content Team, People's Law School

Legal Content Team, People's Law School

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.


On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Time off work in the section on Work.

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