By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is promising to implement a new eight week Family Caregiver Leave if re-elected. It offers job protection, but no compensation for family members who need time off work to take care of sick relatives.
If you thought similar leave provisions already exist, your confusion is understandable. Ontario and most other provinces have an eight week Family Medical Leave, which was passed to dovetail with the Compassionate Care Benefits first offered under the Federal Employment Insurance Plan.
Up to six weeks of compassionate care benefits are available after a two week waiting period to eligible applicants who need to be off work to care for a gravely ill family member (including a close friend or relative). Provincial legislation ensures the individual has a job to return to.
However, the fatal flaw in the current model is that you need a physician’s certificate that the patient has a specified, serious medical condition with a significant risk of death occurring within 26 weeks.
It is not surprising that many potential claimants are unwilling to ask a doctor for the necessary certification, particularly in the case of young children. Doctors may also be reluctant to certify how much longer a patient can be expected to live.
As a result, the take up rate for Compassionate Care Benefits is so low that the amount paid represents only about 1 per cent of amounts paid out in EI sick benefits or maternity benefits.
The Ontario Liberal party’s proposed new Family Caregiver Leave would be separate from and in addition to the current Family Medical Leave. If a family member’s condition becomes terminal while the employee is on leave, the caregiver will be entitled to take an additional eight weeks off.
The obvious problem is that without any form of income replacement for the new leave, many people may not be able to afford to take the time they need. The Ontario government is calling on Ottawa to extend EI benefits to those who take advantage of Family Caregiver Leave, just as they do when Ontarians take Family Medical Leave.
But I wouldn’t hold your breath.
In the post-election budget, the federal government gave families with ailing relatives a $300 annual tax credit, so a further extension of EI benefits is highly unlikely.
And in spite of the fact that McGuinty has been inching up on Hudak in recent polls, it’s still several weeks until the October 6th election. Without a third provincial Liberal majority, even the proposed new unpaid leave may never see the light of day.