Special leave and the meaning of "providing care"

News Blog

One of the most hotly contested provisions in the facilities subsector collective agreement is Article 30, relating to special leave.  

Special leave is paid leave granted for a number of special circumstances – including marriage, the birth of a child, and to provide care to an immediate family member with a serious illness.  

But what does it mean to provide “care” to a family member? An arbitration interpreting similar language from the health sciences professional agreement offers some key insights.

In Fraser Health Authority v. HSA (Special Leave), the grievor applied for special leave on two occasions when her husband was required to attend the hospital for surgery. On both days, the grievor provided various support to her husband, including helping him stay calm and focused through breathing and guided imagery exercises, acting as next of kin in the case of complications during surgery, receiving instructions from the doctor, driving him home, and staying with him as per the doctor’s instructions.
 
On both occasions, the employer denied the grievor’s request on the basis that special leave does not cover the typical support spouses provide each other in difficult times, and that her husband was under the care of hospital professionals.

Fortunately, Arbitrator John Hall disagreed. He held that “care” is not limited to physical or medical care, but includes logistical and emotional care. In this case, the grievor provided care similar to what a social worker would provide.

The employer even wanted to deduct 60 to 90 minutes from the special leave benefits for the time the grievor’s husband was in surgery, which Hall called “nonsensical.” Hall ruled the grievor was entitled to that special leave, since she was next of kin and was required to provide pre- and post-op care.

This decision provides clear support for a holistic view of what it means to provide “care” for a family member.

From the Guardian