Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Family leave for Albertans?

The Vanier Institute of the Family recently released a short summary of caregiving in Canada. Caregiving entails providing support to a family member or friend who has a long-term health condition or a disability, or who requires care due to aging.

In the past year, 28% of Canadians have acted as caregivers and just over one third of all employed Canadians are also caregivers. The number of Canadians requiring caregiving is expected to double in the next 30 years due to demographic factors.

About 15% of employer caregivers have reduced their weekly hours of work to accommodate care giving. Of this group, 14% reported losing some or all of their benefits as a result of this reduction. About 44% of employer caregivers also reported missing an average of 8-9 day of employment in a year due to caregiving responsibilities.

As Alberta considers the first major changes to its Employment Standards Code since the 1980s, two changes could help caregivers.

First, the government could harmonize the length of job-protected leave in Alberta to care for a gravely ill or dying loved one (currently 8 weeks) with federal Employment Insurance benefits (26 weeks). Harmonizing these provisions with federal EI provisions would ensure that workers accessing compassionate care EI benefits would not lose their job while caring for loved ones. This change would likely disproportionately benefit women.

Second, Alberta could implement some form of family illness leave. Neither the Employment Standards Code nor the Human Rights Act provides workers with leave to care for sick family members (e.g., children, parents). Ontario provides employees who work for firms with at least 50 employees up to 10 days per year of unpaid personal emergency leave to cope with personal or family illness or medical emergencies. This leave would be most effective if extended to all employees (regardless of employer size).

Clarifying Alberta’s provisions around personal illness leave would also improve workers’ access to remedy in the event the employer denies such leave (remedy is presently murky but appears to fall within the ambit of the Human Rights Commission).

-- Bob Barnetson

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