Leaves of absence and breaks
Nova Scotia Labour Standards provides employment rights information & deals with Labour Standards Code complaints.
Contact NS Labour Standards:
This page only talks about leaves under Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code.
All leaves under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code are unpaid. However, your employment contract, benefits plan, or collective agreement may provide added benefits, and Employment Insurance benefits may also be available for some leaves.
This page gives legal information only, not legal advice. For more information, contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards at 1-888-315-0110 or 902-424-4311, or online at novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/.
Contact a lawyer if you need legal advice.
Pregnancy & Parental leave
Q - Am I entitled to time off if I'm pregnant?
If you are pregnant and have worked for your employer for at least one year, you are entitled to an unpaid pregnancy leave of up to 17 weeks. If your employer asks, you must provide your employer with a doctor's certificate confirming your pregnancy. You must give your employer 4 weeks' notice of the date you will start pregnancy leave and the date you will return to work if you are returning early. If you cannot give 4 weeks' notice for medical reasons or because the baby comes early, then you need to give your employer as much notice as possible.
You can start pregnancy leave up to 16 weeks before your due date. You must take at least one week off after the actual delivery date. Subject to Nova Scotia human rights law (Human Rights Act), if your pregnancy makes you unable to perform your regular job duties, your employer can require you to take an unpaid leave of absence.
Q - Am I entitled to time off if my spouse or partner is having a baby?
Either parent may take parental leave. If you have worked for your employer for at least one year, and you are the parent of a newborn or newly adopted child, then you are entitled to a parental leave of absence of up to 52 weeks.
You must take any parental leave within 52 weeks of the child's birth or arrival in your home, and must give your employer 4 weeks' notice of the date when you will begin the leave, and the date you will return to work, if you are returning early.
A woman who took pregnancy leave may also take parental leave. In that case, parental leave starts immediately at the end of the pregnancy leave, without a break between the two leaves. The pregnancy and parental leaves combined cannot total more than 52 weeks (maximum 17 weeks pregnancy leave + 35 weeks parental leave).
Q - Are adoptive parents entitled to parental leave?
Yes, parents of a newly adopted child are entitled to up to 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave. You must take any parental leave within 52 weeks of the child's arrival in your home, and give your employer 4 weeks' notice of the dates when you will start and end your leave, or give notice as soon as possible if the adoption placement happens sooner than expected.
Q - Does my employer have to pay my wages if I take pregnancy and/or parental leave?
No. Both pregnancy and parental leaves are unpaid leaves from work under the Labour Standards Code. However, Employment Insurance maternity and/or parental benefits (canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-maternity-parental.html) may be available to those who take these leaves, and your employment contract may also provide pregnancy and/or parental leave benefits.
Q - Can my employer end my employment while I am on pregnancy/parental leave?
When you return to work after pregnancy and/or parental leave, you must be allowed to return to the same position or, if that position is no longer available, to a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. If your employer does not allow you to return from pregnancy/parental leave, you may be able to make a complaint. Contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information.
More information: NS Labour Standards parental and pregnancy leave page.
Compassionate care leave
Q - Compassionate care leave
Compassionate care leave is an unpaid leave of up to 28 weeks, which may be taken if you have worked for your employer longer than three months and you have to take care of or give support to a seriously ill family member who has a significant chance of dying within 26 weeks. A doctor must determine whether a family member has a serious chance of dying within 26 weeks. You may be required to provide a doctors certificate stating this to your employer.
Compassionate care leave may be granted to provide care or support for:
- your spouse (including common-law partner, if you have lived together for 1 year or more)
- your or your spouse's parent, step-parent or foster parent
- your or your spouse's child or step-child o your current or former foster child
- your brother, step-brother, sister, or step-sister
- your or your spouse's grandparent or step-grandparent
- your or your spouse's grandchild or step-grandchild
- your brother-in-law, step-brother-in-law, sister-in-law or step-sister-in-law of the employee
- your or your spouse's son-in-law or daughter-in-law
- your or your spouse's uncle or aunt
- your or your spouse's nephew or niece
- the spouse of the employee's current or former foster child, current or former guardian, grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece
- your current or former guardian
- your or your spouse's current or former ward
- someone considered to be like a close relative, whether or not related.
Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards if you are not sure whether you are eligible to take compassionate care leave for a particular family member or person you consider to be like a close relative.
Q - How much compassionate care leave can I get?
You can take up to 28 weeks of leave, which may be divided into periods of at least one week each. The leave must be taken within a 52 week time period, and can be broken up, as long as each period is at least one week. You need to give your employer as much notice as possible when taking compassionate care leave.
Q - Am I entitled to be paid while on compassionate care leave?
Compassionate care leave is unpaid. However, you may qualify for up to 26 weeks of compassionate care Employment Insurance benefits under the federal Employment Insurance program - canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-compassionate.html. Your employment contract may also provide compassionate care leave benefits.
More information: NS Labour Standards compassionate care leave page.
Critically ill child care leave
Q - Am I entitled to time off if my child is critically ill?
If you are a parent and you have worked for your employer for at least 3 months, you are entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 37 weeks to provide care or support to your critically ill child. Your child must be under 18. A parent includes:
- the critically ill child's parent
- the spouse or common-law partner of a parent of a critically ill child
- a person the critically ill child is living with for the purposes of adoption
- the critically ill child's guardian or foster parent.
Contact Labour Standards if you are not sure whether you would be eligible for this leave.
You must provide a doctor's certificate indicating that your child's life is at risk due to illness or injury, and the length of the leave. You must give your employer as much notice of the leave as possible. Notice should be in writing. You must take the leave in periods of at least 1 week, within a 52 week time frame. When you return to work you must be allowed to return to the same position or a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. If your employer does not allow you to return to your job after this leave, you may be able to make a complaint. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information.
This provincial leave is unpaid, but income support may be available through the federal Employment Insurance benefits for parents of critically ill children program. If you are eligible for federal Employment Insurance benefits to care for a critically ill child, you may get up to 35 weeks of benefits within a 52 week time period.
More information: NS Labour Standards critically ill child care leave page.
Crime-related death or disappearance leave
Q - Am I entitled to time off if my child dies or disappears due to a crime?
If you are a parent and you have worked for your employer for at least 3 months, you are entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 52 weeks if your child disappears as a result of a probable crime, or up to 104 weeks if your child has died as a result of a probable crime. The leave must be taken continuously – it can’t be broken up into shorter periods. An employee can’t get the leave if they have been charged with the crime which resulted in the child’s death or disappearance.
When you return to work you must be allowed to return to the same position or a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. If your employer does not allow you to return to your job after this leave, you may be able to make a complaint. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information.
This leave is unpaid, but income support may be available to through the federal Parents of Murdered or Missing Children grant - contact Service Canada for information.
More information: NS Labour Standards crime related child death or disappearance leave page.
Q - Sick leave
Under the Labour Standards Code you are entitled to up to three unpaid sick days each year, in order to care for a sick family member or to go to medical or dental appointments. Your employer may provide additional sick benefits, and you may also be eligible for up to 15 weeks' of federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits. Contact Employment Insurance (canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-sickness.html) for more information.
Q - Emergency leave
Unpaid emergency leave is available under the Labour Standards Code if:
- A government agency has declared a public emergency, and you cannot work as a result, or;
- A medical officer (under the Health Protection Act) has ordered you to stay home for example, because you have a contagious disease; or
- You must stay off work to care for a family member who is in one of the above situations, and you are the only person who can reasonably care for your family member. 'Family member' is defined in the same way as it is for compassionate care leave (see above).
Unpaid emergency leave is for public emergencies, such as a weather disaster or public health crisis, not personal emergencies such as a family illness. You must give your employer as much notice as possible that you are taking emergency leave, and your employer may request reasonable evidence that you are entitled to emergency leave. Emergency leave lasts as long as the emergency continues and prevents you from working.
More information: NS Labour Standards Emergency Leave page.
Q - Am I entitled to leave if I have to go to court?
Yes. You can take an unpaid court leave if you must serve on a jury or appear as a witness. You must give your employer as much notice as you reasonably can if you have to go to court.
Q - Am I entitled to leave if a family member dies?
Yes. You may take up to five consecutive working days' leave on the death of your:
- spouse (married or common-law)
- child, or a child in your care
- sister or brother
- mother or father-in-law
- son or daughter-in-law
- brother or sister-in-law.
Bereavement leave is unpaid. You must give your employer as much notice as possible that you are taking bereavement leave.
Q - Am I entitled to leave if I am a reservist?
Deployment leave: If you are a reservist who is preparing for active duty or training you can take an unpaid leave from your civilian work if you have worked for your employer for at least one year. The leave cannot be longer than 18 months in a 3-year period, and there must be at least a 1 year break between reservist leaves. You must return to work within four weeks of the end of your service period. You must give your employer 90 days notice before taking deployment leave. If it is an emergency, you must give as much notice as you reasonably can.
Training leave: Reservists are also entitled to up to 20 days unpaid training leave per year, giving the employer at least 4 weeks' notice before the leave, or as much notice as possible if it is an emergency.
More information: NS Labour Standards Reservists Leave Fact Sheet.
Q - Am I entitled to leave to attend my citizenship ceremony?
Yes. You may take up to one (1) day of unpaid leave to attend your citizenship ceremony, on the day of the ceremony. You must give your employer fourteen (14) days' notice, or as much notice as you reasonably can, of the date of your citizenship ceremony, and how long you will be away from work. Your employer may require proof of the date of your citizenship ceremony.
More information: NS Labour Standards Citizenship Ceremony leave page.
Q - Maintaining a workplace benefit plan while on leave
During pregnancy, parental, compassionate care, critically ill child, crime related child death or disappearance, reservists', citizenship ceremony and emergency leaves your employer must give you the option to keep up any benefit plan you belong to. This would be at your own expense, unless your employer agrees otherwise. When you return from any of these leaves, your employer must accept you back into the same or a comparable position with no loss of benefits or seniority. There are a few exceptions. Contact Labour Standards for more information.
Q - Am I entitled to a break during work?
Under the Labour Standards Code you are entitled to a 30-minute rest or eating break for every 5 hours in a row that you work. However, an employer does not need to give a break if:
- there is an accident
- urgent work must be done
- there are unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances
- it is unreasonable to take a meal break.
You are entitled to eat while working if you have worked 5 hours in a row and have not been given a break. Your employer does not have to pay you for breaks, unless your employer requires you to be available for work during breaks.
More information: NS Labour Standards Breaks & Rest Periods page.
Q - Where can I get more information?
Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education (provincially regulated workplaces)
Labour Standards Division
Halifax: (902) 424- 4311
Sydney: (902) 563-2180
Toll free: 1-888-315-0110
Employment Insurance - Service Canada
Toll free: 1-800-206-7218
Employment and Social Development Canada Labour Program (federally regulated workplaces)
Toll free: 1-800-641-4049
Reviewed December 2016