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I have to stay home from work to care for my children or another family member. What are my rights?

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I have to stay home from work to care for my children or another family member. What are my rights?
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CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)

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I have to stay home from work to care for my children or another family member. What are my rights?
Reviewed: 
October 1, 2020
Answer

You might need to stay home to care for a family member because of COVID-19. This might be because schools or daycare centres have closed or a family member is sick with COVID-19.

Some options you have include:

  • vacation time, if you have any
  • sick days if you have them and depending on your employer's sick leave policy
  • if you don't have paid sick leave, the Ontario Employment Standards Act says that you get at least 3 sick unpaid days a year

Other options depend on the family member you must care for.

Caring for your children or parents

If you have to stay home to care for your children or your parents, you have 2 other options:

Ask for accommodation

The Ontario Human Rights Code protects people from being discriminated against because of their family status. But this includes only the relationship between parents and children.

It might be discrimination if your employer stops you from carrying out your duties as a parent or as a child.

To avoid discriminating against you, your employer may have to offer you "accommodation". This means that they might have to change your working conditions so you can care for your children or parents.

There are many ways this could happen, but some examples are:

  • letting you work from home
  • changing your work schedule
  • letting you leave during the day to give your parent their medication

Your employer has to accommodate you only to the point of "undue hardship". This means that they don't have to accommodate you if it would be too difficult. For example, if there's no work that you can do from home, they don't have to let you do this.

Get help when you ask for accommodation

This can be a complicated area of law. If you want help, contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre for free legal advice and information. They can help you figure out:

  • if your situation is discrimination
  • if there are things you can do to convince your employer to accommodate you
  • if you can make a claim with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • what evidence you need to prove that your employer is discriminating against you

Read more in the question I have to take care of my child, does my employer have to accommodate me?

Take the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave

If you don't want to ask for accommodation or you can't be accommodated because of the job you do, your other option is to take the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave. This is an unpaid leave.  

If you want to take this leave to care for your child, you can take it if:

  • your child's school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19
  • you choose not to send your child to school or daycare because you're worried that your child will be exposed to COVID-19.

If you want to do this, you need to tell your employer as soon as possible.

If you're taking the leave to care for a family member, your employer can ask for "reasonable" proof. For example, they can ask you for a note or email from your daycare provider saying that they had to close due to COVID-19.

There's no limit on the number of days for this leave. You can even take it for short periods of time, for example to help care for a family member one day a week because of COVID-19. But, you can take the leave for as long as you need it.  For example, if your daycare closed because of a COVID-19 outbreak, you can only take the leave until they open again.

The leave is available until January 2, 2021. The government may extend this if the COVID-19 situation does not improve.

Caring for other family members

If you're caring for family members other than your parent or child, you and your employer may be able to work something out, even though they don't have to accommodate you based on the Human Rights Code.  

You're also able to use the unpaid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave.

And in some cases, you may be able to get Employment Insurance (EI) while caring for a critically ill adult.

Getting legal help

If you're having trouble getting time off work, you may want to get legal help.

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