Ont. MPP suggests extension of bereavement leave for parents

TORONTO -- Bereaved parents in Ontario are not legally entitled to more than 10 days off work -- unless their child's death is a criminal act -- but that may change if a private member's bill passes.

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Jonathan's Law, named for Vince and Espy Leitao's 16-year-old son who died of cancer, would allow parents who have lost a child to have up to 52 weeks of leave from work.

"It's a very, very painful process and grief is not limited," Vince Leitao said Tuesday. "There's no time limit to it. We know when it starts, but we don't know when it ends. It can go on forever."

Not every bereaved parent will need 52 weeks, but it should be available, he said.

Under the Employment Standards Act, parents are entitled to up to 37 weeks of unpaid leave from work to care for a critically ill child. But if that child dies, that leave ends at the end of the week, with an additional 10-day personal emergency leave being the remaining protection under the act.

However, if an employee's child dies as the result of a crime, they are entitled to an unpaid leave of absence of up to 104 weeks.

New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns' private member's bill would allow grieving parents a leave of one year. It would be unpaid, but would mean they don't have to worry about their job security while dealing with the death of a child, he said.

"Ten days is not actually adequate to deal with the impact of the loss and the death, and so this would allow those parents to have the length of time they need to deal with the grieving process," Tabuns said.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said he would support the bill.

"In the past, governments of all levels have really relied on the goodwill of employers themselves," he said.

"You've seen leaves introduced at the provincial level that cover off a lot of those things that accompany a normal life and I think we're just starting to come to the realization as a government that those are daily events in the lives of people in this province of Ontario and our employment legislation should reflect the reality of that."

Meighan Ferris-Miles, whose 3 1/2-year-old son died from a streptococcus bacteria about one year ago, returned to work on a gradual basis two months after her son's death, spending about eight months working her way back up to full capacity.

As an employment lawyer for a major corporation, Ferris-Miles was well aware of the law and was fortunate to have an employer who gave her all the time she needed, she said. But the gap in the law must be closed, she said.

"It's much better from the employer's perspective, I think, to give you the time to be able to heal so that you can come back and function at a higher level," Ferris-Miles said. "It's not really to anyone's benefit to have somebody come back when, I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't eating."



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