You’ll want to start by finding out whether you have any agreement with your employer that gives you more than the legal minimum time off.

  • If you’re not unionized, you may have signed an employment contract when you were hired.
  • If you are unionized, the contract is your collective agreement and you should be able to get a copy from your union or find it on their website.

If there’s an agreement, see what it says about time off. You’re looking for phrases like “sick leave” and “stress leave.”

If you can’t find anything saying you’re entitled to more than the legal minimum, the next step is to figure out what the legal minimum is for you.

  • Under B.C. employment law, most workers are entitled to five paid sick days a year.
  • Under Quebec employment law, most workers are entitled to two paid sick days a year.
  • Under P.E.I. employment law, most workers are entitled to one paid sick day per year.
  • Under the Canada Labour Code, federally regulated workers are entitled to three paid sick days per year.
  • Most workers across the country are entitled by law to between three and 12 unpaid sick days per year, depending on where they’re located and how long they have worked for their employer.
  • None of this applies to people who aren’t legally classified as employees, such as self-employed people, migrant workers, and gig economy workers. They aren’t entitled to anything.

You should also check whether your job provides you with any form of disability insurance. According to a 2018 government study, about 42% of Canadian employees have disability insurance. But employers are not legally obligated to provide it, so yours may not.

You should be able to get your benefits information from HR, the union, or your boss. You don’t need to say why you’re asking for it; it’s normal for workers to want to know it.

Decide what to do

Now you know what you’re entitled to, you can decide whether it covers what you need.

If it doesn’t, your employer may be willing to work with you to give you unpaid leave.

If not, there are other ways you can apply for paid or unpaid leave. But we need to warn you: They’re all going to take a lot of work. They’re all very slow. And you may get turned down. That’s the upshot.

Now we’ll dive into the details.

  • You can usually take sick leave any time, as long as you tell your boss beforehand. You can’t be fired, penalized, or threatened for taking or planning to take sick leave.
  • Your employer may require a doctor’s note.
  • Sick or stress leave maximums are pretty short—the average max is about six days total per year.
  • If you have access to short-term disability, it generally runs for up to six months and pays a portion of your salary. How much depends on what type of policy your employer has. To qualify, you’ll need a doctor’s statement that you are unable to return to work. Accessing short-term disability is slow and difficult, and your claim may be turned down.
  • Long-term disability insurance picks up after six months and generally pays 60% to 70% of your former salary. This benefit can extend to retirement age, but only if you are unable to work at any job. Accessing long-term disability insurance will require extensive medical documentation and, again, you may be turned down.
  • If you don’t have access to short-term or long-term disability, you might consider applying for the Employment Insurance sickness benefit, which provides up to 15 weeks of income. To be eligible, you must have paid EI premiums and worked 600 hours in the past 52 weeks. In 2022, EI sickness benefits paid 55% of earnings up to a maximum of $638 a week. You will need medical proof you can’t work, and your claim may be denied.