Legislative changes affecting the Compassionate Care Leave of absence

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As part of our communication on the highlights of the federal and provincial budgets for 2015, we included an announcement from the federal government on their intention to extend the Employment Insurance (EI) compassionate care benefits from 6 weeks to 6 months to better support Canadians caring for gravely ill family members.  The bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act in this manner (Bill C-59) was passed on June 23rd, 2015

Summary of changes

Among other items, the bill implements the following changes effective January 3, 2016:

  • Increases the maximum number of weeks of compassionate care benefits from 6 weeks to 26 weeks;
  • With respect to federally regulated employees, it amends the Canada Labour Code to increase the maximum duration of compassionate care leave to 28 weeks.

As is the case for the other job-protected leaves of absence (i.e. maternity and parental), the Canada Labour Code establishes minimum standards that federally-regulated employers must follow. The Code currently provides for an 8-week unpaid compassionate care leave of absence. Effective January 3, 2016,  the duration of the job-protected leave under the Code will increase to 28 weeks, which will be further in line with the amendment to the Employment Insurance Act that significantly increased the duration of the EI compassionate care benefit (from 6 weeks to 26 weeks).

Employer obligation

According to the Code, eligible federally-regulated employees may continue to participate in their group benefit plans (including pension plans) for the duration of their job-protected leave, unless they elect not to do so in writing. Where contributions are required from an employee in order to be entitled to a benefit(s), the employee is responsible for making the contributions. Similarly, an employer who pays contributions in respect of a benefit plan shall continue to make those contributions as if the employee was not on leave.

Approval from Sun Life to extend coverage during any statutory leave is not required, unless the continuation of coverage is requested for a longer period than the one set out in the applicable legislation. Should an employee decide to not continue to participate in a group benefit plan, Sun Life must be advised as the member must sign a waiver of coverage agreement.

Questions?

Please contact your Sun Life Financial group benefits representative.