Resource Guide for Family Caregivers
Human resource policies and benefits flexible work options

Many organizations have family- friendly provisions that can help you balance the demands of family caregiving and work. As mentioned above, often employees, supervisors and managers are not aware of what is available to help family caregivers deal with the stress of competing demands of caregiving and work. If you work in a unionized site many of these provisions may be provided through your collective agreements. In non-unionized organizations, supportive management and informal arrangements may be negotiated to support family caregivers.

“Warner-Lambert, a company that manufactures health care and consumer products, has set up the CARE program for 1,500 Canadian employees. The program offers a resource guide on eldercare services, a hot-line that employees can access if they are worried about an aging parent and seminars during working hours. It also offers flexible hours and extended leaves to employees who need support to juggle work and families. Other companies offer subsidies for respite care or extend health and dental plans to cover elderly parents Lynda Leaf, who runs Proctor and Gamble’s eldercare program in Toronto, predicts such programs will soon be one of the country’s most sought after benefits.” (l. Druxbury and C. Higgins 1998.Balancing Work and Family. Gov’t of Sask.

The following is a summary4 of provisions available in major Canadian collective agreements designed to help achieve some measure of flexibility in the workplace. If you work in a nonunion environment, these options might give you some ideas of what you might work out with your employer.


Research has shown that stress at work is tied both to the actual number of hours worked and to the scheduling of those hours.5  Family caregivers told us they are continually pressed for time and need flexibility to attend to their work, the person receiving care and themselves. Overtime, scheduling of hours of work, flexible work time, reduced hours of work and telework (or flexplace) provisions may offer some opportunities to create flexibility and reduce some of the stress of family caregiving.


Do you have the right to refuse overtime? Approximately 30 per cent of major collective agreements in Canadian organizations provide the right to refuse overtime.6 Check your collective agreement. It may provide options for you to refuse to work overtime or it may require overtime to be assigned based on seniority. In other situations, contracts clearly state management’s right to require employees to work overtime.

In British Columbia, labour standards legislation provides for compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay when employers and employees agree. This means that employees in British Columbia can bank their overtime hours and request payment in overtime wages or in time off with pay. Your collective agreement or personnel policies may have certain restrictions such as how many hours you can bank and how much time in lieu of overtime you can take off at one time or in combination with other leave provisions.

Flexible work options

Flexibility is a key aspect for family caregivers who work outside the home in order to respond to unexpected caregiving needs.

However, some family caregivers prefer to have a set work schedule that allows them to plan for appointments, caregiving routines, social events and time to themselves. Provisions that stipulate maximum consecutive days of work, minimum consecutive days off, rest between shifts, limits to split shifts and notice of shift changes are designed to reduce the impact of work life on family life. Provisions that allow employees to trade shifts or allow preferential shifts and preferential working arrangements for older and long service employees may provide the capacity for family caregivers to adapt their work schedule to better meet their caregiving responsibilities.

Flexible work time

Flextime, compressed work week and annualized hours may be options available to help you balance family caregiving and work. These options do not affect the total hours you may work but they can allow you more control over the distribution of time spent at work and on caregiving.

With flextime, employees can vary the scheduling of their work hours within specified guidelines. Some collective agreements allow individuals to negotiate a flexible work schedule based on individual needs. Some contracts make provision for flexible lunch hours or extension of lunch hours while others provide the opportunity for employees to work extra hours and bank these hours and receive equivalent time off at a later date.

With a compressed work week, employees work longer shifts in exchange for a reduction in the number of working days over a specified period of time (one week, two weeks etc.). With annualized hours, employees can to choose the days and hours of work on condition that they work a specified number of hours per year, month or other specified time period.

Reduced hours of work

Another option that you may want or need to consider is reduced hours of work. The most common way to reduce hours of work is through part-time work but other options may include partial leave, gradual retirement and job sharing.

Part-time work

Better part-time provisions offer prorated pay and continued access to benefits and allow seniority ranking and service to be maintained.

Partial leave

This is also referred to as leave for less than full-time work or variable working hours. These provisions are different from part-time work in that they enable the employee to work a reduced hours schedule for a defined period of time and maintain their full-time status.

Gradual retirement

This option allows older employees, usually with long service records, to slowly decrease their hours of work over a period of time leading up to retirement.

Job sharing

This is an arrangement that allows two (or more) employees to fill one full-time position and share the working time and responsibilities of the position. Look for any number of conditions attached to job sharing arrangements related to eligibility, selection of partners, duration of the job sharing agreement, termination of job sharing arrangements, distribution of  time and workload, impact on pay, seniority and benefits, and replacement of an absent partner. If these conditions are not spelled out it may be worthwhile to consider these issues when entering into a job sharing arrangement.

Family-related leave and vacations

In addition to creating flexibility with regard to the time you work, your employer may offer some flexibility for family caregiving responsibilities through family- related leave and vacations. Leave for caring and health responsibilities; leave for major family/life events (for example, marriage, funerals, graduations); leave for personal reasons; and flexible arrangements for vacations and holidays are among the options that may be available at your place of employment. The length of the leave, whether it is paid or unpaid, how seniority and job tenure are affected, and to what extent benefits are maintained will vary according to your place of employment and any collective agreements that may be in place. A number of different types of family-related leave are described below.

Family care and health leave

Your employer may provide the option for family care leave that may enable you to take time off without having to dip into other leave provisions such as your own sick leave. This leave may be paid or unpaid depending on your worksite.

In British Columbia, Section 52 of the Employment Standards Act states that an employee is entitled to up to 5 days of unpaid leave each year, to meet responsibilities related to the care, health, or education of a child in the employee’s care or the care or health of any other member of the employee’s immediate family.

Use of sick leave credits for general family care

Your employer may allow you to use part of your sick leave credits to obtain paid leave to care for a family member.

Leave for serious household or domestic emergencies

Check your collective agreement for a clause that may allow for paid time off to attend to emergency situations. Although the length of time off may not be great, the wording of such clauses is often broad enough to include medical and other emergencies related to family caregiving.

Family illness leave

Leave to care for an ill or injured family member is a relatively new category of leave available through collective agreements. Most family illness leave provisions may be of short duration and may be restricted to family members living in your home.

Serious/critical illness in the family

The use of serious and critical restrict the range of situations in which leave can be requested, and often these leave provisions are restricted to immediate family members, such as spouse and children.

Short-term family illness leave

Unlike the previous leave provision, this kind of leave does not require that the illness be serious or critical. It is often paid and applies to immediate family members. Rochon7 indicates that in some situations family illness leave is conditional on the employee being the only available person to provide the care, and the onus is on the employee to demonstrate that this is the case.

Leave for accidents involving a family member

Unpaid or paid leave may be available for a sudden, serious or incapacitating illness or injury8 of a family member including a parent, spouse or child. In some cases you may have to provide a medical certificate to verify the injury or  sudden illness.

Long-term family illness leave

Long-term family illness leave recognizes the shift taking place in the delivery of health care services in Canada whereby increased use of home care means an increased role for the family in providing assistance and care of family members. This kind of leave provision may be bargained for on its own or may be part of a more comprehensive leave of absence package.

Family appointments

Many employers and collective agreements provide for leave with pay to accompany dependents to appointments with dentists, doctors and other health professionals. However in some cases the leave for appointments applies only when the family member is living in the same household as the employee.

Compassionate leave

While some collective agreements do not distinguish between bereavement leave and compassionate leave, others recognize that there may be compassionate reasons other than death to grant a leave of absence. Compassionate leave is usually granted at the discretion of the employer.9

Compassionate Care Benefits

Employment Insurance Compassionate Care benefits are available to employed family members caring for a gravely ill relative at risk of dying within 26 weeks.  These benefits are offered through Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC).

The benefits consist of six weeks total compensation – that means, six weeks per ill person, not six weeks per family member.  Your employer cannot fire you because you need time off to take the six weeks plus the two weeks unpaid waiting period.  In a nutshell, to qualify for the benefit as of August 2006:

  • You must have worked a total of 600 insured hours in the last 52 weeks or since your last EI claim.
  • You must be able to demonstrate that you will lose more than 40% of your current weekly earnings to a maximum of $413.  Some situations qualify for higher payment rates.
  • You must obtain a Medical certificate from a doctor indicating that the person you are caring for has a significant risk of dying within 26 weeks, and requires care. If your doctor requires a fee to fill out this form, you are responsible for paying for it.
  • When you leave work, you need to obtain a termination notice from your employer.  You’ll need to file that document when you apply for Compassionate Care Benefits.

According to the HRSDC, the type of care the benefit covers includes:

  • providing psychological support
  • arranging for care by a third party
  • directly providing and participating in care 

You may share the six week benefit with another family member as long as that person also qualifies for the benefit. Each caregiver must make his/her own application. If you are already receiving EI benefits, you can apply, but you will have to go through an evaluation in order to get benefits.

Compassionate Care benefits end when the person you are caring for recovers, dies, or when the six weeks have been exhausted. Employers and caregivers alike need to be aware that though the benefit covers six weeks, there is an initial two week waiting period, pushing the total up to eight weeks away from work. However if you are sharing the six weeks with other family members, the waiting period only applies to the first applicant.

You can receive compassionate care benefits to care for the following members:

Your family

Your spouse or common-law 

partner’s family



Spouse or common-law partner


Father or mother

Father or mother

Spouse or common-law partner of your parent


Siblings or step-siblings

Siblings or step-siblings

Grandparents and step-grandparents


Grandchildren and their spouse or common-law partner


Son-in-law and daughter-in-law, either married or common-law, and their step children

Son-in-law and daughter-in-law, either married or common- law, and their step children

Brother-in-law and sister-in-law, either married or common- law


Uncle and aunt and their spouse or common-law partner

Uncle and aunt

Nephew and niece and

Nephew and niece

their spouse or common-law partner


Current or former foster parents

Current or former Foster parents

Current or former foster children and their spouse or common-law partner


Current or former wards

Current or former wards

Current or former guardians or tutors and their spouse or common-law partner


You can also receive compassionate care benefits to care for a gravely ill person who considers you like a family member, for example a close friend or neighbour. In these circumstances a signed Compassionate Care Benefits Attestation is required from the gravely ill person or their representative. For more information visit the HRSDC website at

Eldercare leave

Specific eldercare leave provisions are relatively rare in Canadian collective agreements. Some federal government bargaining unit agreements include long term unpaid leave to care for an elderly relative. The duration in these cases can be from a minimum of 3 weeks to a maximum of 5 years.

Bereavement leave

Bereavement leave is intended to give the employee time to attend the funeral and to grieve the loss of an immediate family member. Unpaid bereavement leave is legislated in several Canadian jurisdictions including in BC where the Employment Standards Act provides for three days of unpaid leave for employees in the event of the death of a close family member.

In addition, many collective agreements augment the basic leave provisions in legislation and provide for paid bereavement leave - up to seven days in some cases. Other collective agreements include provisions for paid leave to travel to the funeral and perform tasks associated with being an executor of an estate. Still others extend bereavement leave for employees to attend the funeral of a friend or distant relative. These leaves tend to be shorter and are often unpaid.

Leave for personal reasons

This category of leave provisions exists in some collective agreements. The general nature of the leave, as opposed to specific leaves for family needs or obligations, can afford a measure of flexibility for you as it allows for a broad interpretation of the need for leave. Personal leave provisions may be long or short term and may be paid or unpaid depending on the collective agreement.

Telework (or Flexplace)

This arrangement allows an employee to work away from the normal workplace, usually the employee’s home. Computers and telecommunications technology have made this form of work much more feasible for a wider variety of job categories. Telework, or telecommuting as it is sometimes called, allows you the flexibility to organize your day around your family and personal needs. It can reduce work-related expenses and commuting time and provide a less stressful, disruptive work environment. Benefits to the employer include increased productivity, efficiency and employee morale, as well as lower overhead costs. Telework clauses may include issues such as eligibility and selection criteria, equipment and other costs, schedules, safeguards for teleworking employees, management contacting or visiting the employee, working conditions and employee responsibilities.

Employee benefits

Some employee benefits extend to dependents and can help with balancing work and family caregiving responsibilities. You must look closely at the definition of dependent‖ for these benefits. In most cases dependents may be limited to children under a certain age, commonly 18 years or under, or who are registered as full-time students to a maximum age. Life insurance and extended health benefits, counselling services, substance abuse treatment, transportation for medical emergencies, and employee and family assistance programs are often available through negotiated agreements to support the physical and mental health of employees and their dependents. Non-medical benefits may include legal services, discounts for family members and access to personal phone calls while at work.

3 Robart, J. (1998). The Bottom Line: The Cost/Benefit of Work-Life Programs. Unpublished paper prepared for Conference Board of Canada: The Family Caregiving and the Workplace Conference, Vancouver, BC.
4 Adapted from: Rochon, C.P., (2000). Work and Family Provisions in Canadian Collective Agreements. Human Resources Development Canada: Labour Program.
5 Rochon, C.P., (2000). Work and Family Provisions in Canadian Collective Agreements. Human Resources Development Canada: Labour Program. p. 7.
6 Rochon, C.P., (2000). Work and Family Provisions in Canadian Collective Agreeements. Human Resources Development Canada: Labour Program. p. 9.
7 Rochon, C.P., (2000). Work and Family Provisions in Canadian Collective Agreements. Human Resources Development Canada: Labour Program. p. 87.
8 Rochon, C.P., (2000). Work and Family Provisions in Canadian Collective Agreements. Human Resources Development Canada: Labour Program. p. 88.