Sick Leave and Job Protection
Your right to take time off work due to illness and return to your job once you have recovered
When you need to take time off work due to illness, income replacement is important, but your right to take sick leave and have your job protected so that you can return to it after you recover is fundamental. The Act respecting labour standards sets out basic sick leave rights and responsibilities for all employees, but some kinds of employment offer more protections.
For unionized staff, all leave issues are defined in the collective agreement. If you are unclear about any aspect of the leave process, you should contact your union representative. Unionized staff are protected by the Act respecting labour standards, although the collective agreement usually provides greater protection.
Non-unionized staff working in an environment where employment rights are respected and where there is a policy on working conditions should read the employer’s policy carefully and contact the person responsible for human resources to take sick leave. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with your rights under the Act respecting labour standards, which offers you protections. Also, if a clause in your working conditions policy offers less protection than that established by the Act respecting labour standards, that clause is void.
For non-unionized individuals working in precarious conditions, where there is no policy on working conditions and little or no formal human resources management, the Act respecting labour standards establishes the right to take sick leave and sets out the conditions that must be respected and the responsibilities of employers. It is always important to understand your rights. Fortunately, there are excellent groups that advocate for the rights of non-unionized workers and can provide information and support.
Sick leave under Quebec’s Act respecting Labour Standards
The Act respecting labour standards is administered by the Commission des normes, de l’équité et de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST). Its website provides clear and detailed information on the Act for both employees and employers.
Here is an overview of what the Act says about sick leave.
“An employee may be absent from work for up to 26 weeks in a 12-month period because of illness, accident, organ or tissue donation, or domestic or sexual violence of which the employee has been a victim.”
In all cases, the employee must inform the employer as soon as possible of the absence and the reasons for it. The employer may request a document from a physician attesting to the reasons for the absence, particularly in the case of a prolonged absence or a recurring health problem.
Two paid sick days per year
After three (3) months of continuous service, the Act provides for a total of two (2) days of paid sick leave per calendar year (January 1 to December 31). Several conditions apply to this paid leave. These days cannot be carried over from one year to the next.
For more information, consult the CNESST website.
Job protection during sick leave and returning to work
When the employee is ready to return to work, the employer must reinstate the person to their position and provide them with the wages and benefits to which they would have been entitled had they remained at work.
If the position has been abolished, the person retains the same rights and privileges to which they would have been entitled had they remained at work.
Having your rights respected
If you believe your rights have not been respected, you can contact the CNESST or an advocacy organization.
Au bas de l’échelle is an advocacy group for non-unionized workers that provides information and support. Their website provides information on the Labour Standards Act and other legislation in a very user-friendly format.
For a more complete list of advocacy groups, see the Resources section.