Time Off Work for Health Reasons


No one is immune to sickness. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians called in sick an average of 9.5 days in 2020. In Quebec, rules are in place to provide some protections for workers who take time off for mental or physical health reasons. Resources also exist to help those who need it.

Workers can take sick days for various reasons:

  • Mental or physical health issues,
  • Accidents unrelated to their work,
  • Domestic violence or sexual violence,
  • Injuries resulting from criminal offences, or
  • Organ or tissue donations for transplant.

The number of sick days you’re entitled to and whether these days are paid or not depend on your personal circumstances.

Paid time off

Workers who have been employed for at least 3 months are entitled to salary for the first two days of absence each year. These two paid days of absence apply to both sick days and days taken off work for personal and family reasons. Employers do not have the obligation to pay their employees for additional sick days or personal days taken off during the year.

For each of those two paid days of absence, your employer must pay you 1/20th of the wages you earned in the 4 full weeks of pay before the week of your absence. Your employer must include tips, but not overtime.

For employees paid in whole or in part by commission, the amount of the allowance is 1/60th of the salary earned in the 12 weeks before the week of the absence.

If you work full time, this amount is approximately equivalent to one day’s pay.

If you work part-time, the amount will usually be less than one day’s pay.

To check your pay, use this tool, provided by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board).

The law does not provide rules for partial sick days. If you only need to be absent for a part of the workday, you may have to take leave without pay because this partial absence will not count towards one of your two paid days off. This will be the case unless your employer allows for partial paid sick days, in which case your pay will be calculated based on the number of hours of absence.

Time off without pay

Even if not entitled to paid time off, an employee can generally take up to a total of 26 weeks of sick leave over a period of 12 months without fear of losing their job or other penalties from their employer.

Additional sick days are given to victims of criminal offences who can’t perform their regular job because of the injuries caused by the offence. Other than the 26 weeks described above, these victims can take up to a total of 104 additional weeks off from work to recover.

You must inform your employer of the absence and its reason as soon as possible.

If the circumstances justify it, notably the length of the leave or if there have been repeated absences, your employer could require that you provide a document that supports the reason for your leave, such as a medical certificate.

If your employer doubts the reasons for your absence or wishes to contest them, they can request that you be subject to a medical exam conducted by an expert of their choice.

If you feel that you have been penalized unfairly because you took time off work for health reasons, you can file a complaint against your employer with the CNESST. If you belong to a union, you have to first exhaust the recourses described in your collective agreement before turning to the CNESST. To learn more about the topic, read our article Firing and Punishments in the Workplace.


The rules explained above apply only to workers who meet the definition of employee under a law called an Act respecting labour standards.

The article explains your minimum entitlement under the law. Your employer may offer you more than the required minimum.

Employee assistance programs (EAP)

Many employers have assistance programs available for employees that are seeking help, be it for stress, fitness, nutrition, divorce or any other personal problem.

These programs generally provide a number of free and confidential counselling service hours with professionals to address personal, professional or legal problems that have or could influence performance at work.

Services are often available in English as well, though this depends on your employer’s EAP provider.

Other options to turn to for help

Quebec’s Health Insurance Plan is a public plan that gives all Quebecers access to free health care. A wide range of medical care rendered by a family doctor or specialist is covered, such as

  • Consultations
  • Medical exams
  • Psychiatric treatments
  • Surgery
  • Anesthesia

Some dental care and optometry are also covered by the plan.

If you have a serious health problem that prevents you from working for an extended period, you may be eligible to receive financial assistance through Quebec’s Social Solidarity Program and, further down the line, through Quebec’s Basic Income Program. To learn more about these social assistance programs, read our article Social Assistance (Welfare): What You Need to Know Before Applying.

You may also be eligible for Canada’s Employment Insurance sickness benefits if you must stop work temporarily for medical reasons such as an illness, an injury, quarantine or any other medical condition.

In the event of a severe and permanent mental or physical disability, a worker younger than 65 years of age could receive disability benefits under the Quebec Pension Plan.

Though public plans and programs exist, it is also possible to get private insurance coverage to cover different losses and expenses. For example, a private health insurance plan might cover medical costs that are not included in Quebec’s Health Insurance Plan while a wage loss replacement plan could compensate for the loss of all or part of your employment income.