A woman sitting at her laptop computer

Job-protected leave

The issue

The federal Employment Insurance program offers temporary financial assistance, or sickness benefits, to unemployed workers. This assistance includes providing sickness benefits to people unable to work because of illness, injury, or quarantine.  On November 25, 2022, the federal government announced the official extension of the EI sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 26 weeks, effective December 18, 2022.

Each province and territory has legislation that includes job-protected leave for employees who are sick. This unpaid, job-protected leave varies between 3 days to 26 weeks depending on the province or territory. In jurisdictions where job-protected leave is less than the federal sickness benefit period, eligible Canadians entitled to access the federal EI sickness benefit do so at the risk of losing their job unless provinces and territories create complementary legislation to protect their employment.

Currently, only Quebec and federally regulated industries and workplaces are aligned with the federal sickness benefit in providing 26 weeks of job-protected leave for someone who must take time off work due to an illness or injury.

In addition, protected leave eligibility criteria, leave flexibility and regulatory authority to respond to federal EI program changes vary across the country. Without standardization, people living with cancer in many provinces and territories face an even greater burden when it comes to job protection throughout their cancer journey. Improving job-protected illness leave will help Canadians who face a life-threatening illness treatments they need without risk of losing their job.

In a 2022 survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society, 93% of respondents support an extension of job-protected leave to 26 weeks.

Length of unpaid leave
16 weeks
British Columbia
3 days
17 weeks
New Brunswick
5 days
Newfoundland and Labrador
7 days
Northwest Territories
5 days
Nova Scotia
3 days
3 days
Prince Edward Island
3 days
26 weeks
12 weeks
12 days
Federally regulated industries and workplaces
27 weeks

Financial impact of cancer

When Canadians face cancer, their struggle is not just medical but also financial. In addition to a decrease in income, they also face a rise in expenses such as medications, the cost of medical travel, parking and home care costs. The stress of this financial burden affects their emotional well-being and, therefore, their psychosocial needs.

As Canadians live longer, with longer careers, more people are likely to develop an illness while in the workforce. With 2 in 5 Canadians expected to develop cancer in their lifetime and more than one million Canadians living with and beyond cancer, there is a critical need to provide additional support for people with cancer and their families.

Our position

Canadians who are facing a life-threatening disease such as cancer need to take time off work to receive treatment and to heal. When Canadians face cancer, their struggle is not just physical, it also includes impacts on mental health and financial stress. The Canadian Cancer Society believes that people who are facing a life-threating illness such as cancer require financial support and job-protected leave when they take time off work to receive and recover from treatment. Canadians should not have to choose between receiving cancer treatment and working.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that provincial and territorial governments:

  • extend the length of sickness leave job protection to at least 26 weeks to align with Employment Insurance sickness benefit
  • increase flexibility for workers by allowing them to claim benefits in smaller units (on an hourly or per day basis)
  • authorize expanded access to leave by regulation
  • reduce the administrative burden by adopting a claimant-centred client approach in working with claims and streamlining the requirements, application process and aligning with other federal benefits such as Canada Pension Plan
  • increase employer access to supports and accommodations for workers