[co-author: David Hillier, Articling Student]
On May 11, 2021, the British Columbia provincial government tabled new legislation seeking further amendments to the British Columbia Employment Standards Act (ESA) that, if passed, will provide workers with up to three days of paid sick leave. The “made-in-B.C. paid sick leave” program will apply during COVID-19, with a permanent program beginning in 2022.
PAID SICK LEAVE DURING COVID-19
The amendment seeks to add a section to the ESA entitling workers to up to three (3) days of paid sick leave related to COVID-19, for reasons such as having symptoms, self-isolating and waiting for a test result. The leave is in addition to the three (3) days of unpaid leave already available to workers under the ESA. The provincial government stated that the new paid leave is meant to bridge the gap for workers between when they first feel sick and when they can access the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. The section will be effective from the date the bill receives royal assent and will be automatically repealed on December 31, 2021.
Employers will be required to pay employees their full wages in respect of a COVID-19 sick day. For those employers without an existing paid sick leave program, the government will reimburse them up to C$200 per day for each worker. For employers with a more highly paid workforce, but who do not already have paid sick leave, those employers will be required to pay any remaining wages owed above C$200 for each COVID-19 sick day taken. WorkSafeBC will administer the employer reimbursement program beginning June 2021.
For unionized employers, the amendment provides that where a collective agreement already contains paid COVID-19 leave provisions that meet or exceed the legislated entitlement, the collective agreement will apply. Conversely, where a collective agreement does not contain COVID-19 leave provisions or fails to meet the legislated entitlement, Bill 13 will apply.
PERMANENT PAID SICK LEAVE PROGRAM COMING IN 2022
The new amendment also introduces provisions for a permanent paid sick leave program for workers who cannot work due to any illness or injury beginning on January 1, 2022. The duration of the leave is yet undetermined. This, and other supports, will be determined following consultations with businesses, labour organizations, Indigenous partners and other stakeholders. Workers will become entitled to paid leave after 90 consecutive days of employment.
The amendments create significant changes for employers and workers during COVID-19 and beyond. Still uncertain, however, are the details of the employer reimbursement program and the number of paid sick days workers will be entitled to under the permanent program. It is also uncertain how business and other stakeholders can offer feedback as to how the permanent program will be conducted.