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Life happens. Taking leave and buying service

Need time off? Taking a leave can help balance life outside of work. Learn the types of leave available and ways you can keep your pension contributions on track.

When you need time off work for personal reasons, you have options. Depending on your situation, you may be able to take a leave of absence while continuing to receive a percentage of your regular paycheque. In other cases, you may need to take an unpaid leave to balance your work and personal responsibilities. Remember though, during your time off you typically won’t be making contributions to your pension plan. If you have gaps in your employment where you don’t contribute or buy service, it could affect the amount of pension you receive later on. Also, when you’re not contributing, your employer isn’t either, so you are giving up their contributions as well.

Buy back service to maximize your pension

You may, however, be able to continue your pension contributions while you’re away, or “buy back” some of that time through a purchase of service upon your return. Either of these options is a great way to help maximize your lifetime pension. Whether you plan to make contributions during your absence or buy back service after your return, be aware that deadlines do apply.

Also, even though you may have up to five years to buy back service after an absence, it’s best not to wait. The cost of buying back service is based on your salary at the time you make the purchase—so if you wait and your salary increases in the meantime, you will be billed at the higher rate.

What about transferring service?

If you leave your job, you may be able to transfer your service from your original pension plan to your new employer’s pension plan. You can do this if the two pension plans have a transfer agreement.

What types of leave are most common?

There are many reasons people may take a leave from work, but among the most common are maternity, parental and compassionate care. The Employment Standards Act (ESA) defines a range of approved leave types for a variety of situations.

  • Maternity leave can begin several weeks before the expected due date, and continue for a period after the birth, up to the maximum maternity leave entitlement. (The latest start date is the child’s actual birth date.)
  • Parental leave can provide a new parent time to care for their child after maternity leave has ended. A parent who did not take maternity leave may take parental leave instead.
  • Compassionate care leave can provide time for an employee to care for a critically ill family member who is likely to die in the near future. A certificate from a medical or nurse practitioner is required, and if necessary this leave may be extended with a new certificate.

What other leave types are available?

Additional leave types recently added or updated under the ESA include coverage for injury or illnesses (including COVID-19), the disappearance or death of a child, and domestic or sexual violence. For complete information on any of these, refer to the Employment Standards Act.

  • COVID-19 leave can be requested by an employee who is unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19; for example, if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are in quarantine or self-isolation, need to provide care to their minor child (or a dependent adult who is their child or former foster child) for a reason related to COVID-19, or are outside of BC and can’t return because of travel or border restrictions.
  • Illness or injury leave provides time to help an employee recover from personal illness or injury.
  • Critical illness or injury leave allows time to provide care or support for a critically ill or injured family member.
  • Domestic or sexual violence leave is available if an employee (or an individual who is in the daily care of the employee) has experienced or is experiencing domestic or sexual violence. This leave can be taken for various reasons; for example, to seek medical attention, obtain professional services, find a new home or request legal or police assistance.
  • Disappearance of a child leave is available to an employee (in blocks of time or all at once) starting on the date their child disappears, if the disappearance is likely the result of a crime.
  • Death of a child leave provides an employee time (in blocks of time or all at once) to help cope with the death of their child.

What about taking a general leave?

If you need time away that does not fall under any of the ESA-approved leave types, you may want to consider taking a “general” leave. Your reasons for taking a general leave are up to you; for example, you may want to take time off to travel, pursue a hobby or attend a course. You must arrange a general leave with your employer. Remember, if you want to maximize your pension, consider continuing your pension contributions while you’re away or buying back service after you return.

For more information, see the related links on this page.