Compassionate Care



Employment Insurance benefit offers income and job protection to many Canadians

As reported in the third quarter 2003 edition of Employee Benefit News, new Compassionate Care benefits came into effect for federally regulated employees on January 4, 2004.  The new benefit provides both financial assistance and job protection for eligible employees requiring a temporary leave from work to care for an immediate family member who is terminally ill.


Although Compassionate Care is not normally a benefit included in group insurance plans, plan sponsors should understand the concept and the benefit.  Many provinces and territories have either followed the federal lead by making Compassionate Care a component of their own labour laws, or are being encouraged to do so by unions and associations.  It’s likely the practice will be extended, so employers may soon be called upon to provide such leaves as part of their programs.


An emotional toll

While Canadians have always had to deal with the emotional whirlpool associated with the pending loss of a loved one due to illness, more working Canadians are finding themselves directly responsible for the care of ill and aging relatives.  It may be a daily struggle for some individuals to fulfill their eldercare responsibilities while successfully meeting employment commitments and other family responsibilities.  When severe illness strikes any family member—aging or otherwise—it’s not hard to imagine that those physical and emotional responsibilities can be overwhelming.  When demands mount from all sides, it may only take a nudge to bring a productive employee’s balancing act crashing to the ground.


The federal government’s approach

Under the new Compassionate Care benefit for federally regulated employees, workers are entitled to receive up to eight weeks of leave and job protection while caring for an immediate family member who is gravely ill and in danger of dying.  The definition of family member includes the following

·        your child or the child of your spouse or common-law partner

·        your wife/husband or common-law partner

·        your father/mother

·        your father’s wife or your mother’s husband

·        the common-law partner of your mother or father.

Human Resources and Development Canada describes a common-law partner as a person who has been living in a conjugal relationship with another person for a least one year.


In this case, care or support of a family means

·        providing psychological or emotional support, or

·        arranging for care by a third-party, or

·        directly providing or participating in the care.


In addition to meeting the normal qualifications for Employment Insurance benefits—accumulating 600 hours of insurable employment during the year before the start of the claim, or since the start of a previous EI claim if it began during the 52 week-period before the Compassionate Care claim—a medical certificate is required.  This certificate must be signed by a doctor and indicate that the patient is gravely ill with a significant risk of dying during the next six months (26 weeks).  The certificate must also indicate that the patient requires the assistance of one or more members of his or her family.  The physician completing the medical certificate might charge a fee for performing this service.

When supported by this medical documentation, employees can receive up to six weeks of paid employment insurance coverage following the normal two-week waiting period, for a total of eight weeks away from work.  The Compassionate Care benefit is flexible and allows two different family members caring for the patient to share the benefit, provided both meet the qualification requirements.  However, only a single eight-week leave can be claimed for each patient.  If two caregivers choose to split the leave equally, those individuals may attend an ill family member for a period of four weeks each.  Only one medical certificate is required for each patient, and once it has been submitted, the second caregiver simply needs to submit paperwork identifying the patient he or she is helping to care for.  As well, only a single two-week waiting period is required when the benefit is being shared between family members.  Compassionate Care benefits end if/when the patient passes away or no longer needs care.

The physical location of the patient has no bearing on a caregiver’s eligibility for Compassionate Care benefits.  This allows an individual to provide care and assistance to a family member who lives outside of Canada, as long as all the same requirements are met.  Canadians with Supplemental Unemployment Benefits that “top up” their EI benefits during temporary absences from work will be able to receive the supplemental benefit in conjunction with their Compassionate Care benefit.

For more information on the federal Compassionate Care benefit, visit Human Resources Development Canada’s Web site


The provincial perspective

In the province of Quebec, labour laws pre-dating Ottawa’s Compassionate Care benefit allow an employee to take up to 12 unpaid weeks away from work (over a period of 12-months) to provide care to a family member suffering a serious illness or accident.  That employee is required to have completed three months of uninterrupted service with his or her employer and must give the employer as much notice of the absence as possible.  The employer may also request medical documentation.  If the patient is a child, Quebec’s laws permit the leave to be extended up to a total of 104 weeks.  Under the new federal Compassionate Care benefit, Quebec residents will now be able to apply for employment insurance benefits for a six-week portion of the leave.


Many other provinces have taken steps to make Compassionate Care available to workers.  Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Yukon Territory and Nunavut have all either proposed or introduced legislation to allow citizens to take advantage of the federal program, and others are expected to follow suit.


There are slight differences between each jurisdiction’s legislation.  For example, Manitoba requires the caregiver to have been employed for at least 30 calendar days prior to taking the leave while the Yukon has no length of service qualification.  And depending on the provincial/territorial legislation, the employer may or may not be required to offer benefits coverage during a compassionate leave.  However, all the laws are intended to protect workers’ jobs, wages, benefits and seniority while allowing them to give support and care for dying loved ones.  The Yukon Department of Community Services, Labour Services says the legislation is beneficial because, “This leave encourages and allows the opportunity for family members to care for seriously ill family members, which may result in decreased health care costs.  It may also increase the quality of life for family members, and reduce the stress related to the illness and the lack of time to spend with the family member for fear of job loss.”


Sources: Human Resources and Development Canada; the governments of Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Yukon and Quebec; Canadian Labour Law Reporter November 17, 2003; The Canadian Medical Association Interface volume 4, no. 11, November 11, 2003.