In April 2018, we reported on the British Columbia Government’s introduction of Bill 6, Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2018, which contained several amendments to the leave of absence provisions in British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act (the “Act”). On May 17, 2018, the Bill received Royal Assent and came into force that day. As a result, new leave of absence protections are now available under the Act. The following summarises what employers need to know about these amendments.
Pregnancy and Parental Leaves
Sections 50 and 51 of the Act are amended to provide eligible employees with job protection for an 18 month period of pregnancy/parental leave. In particular:
- a pregnant employee can start maternity leave up to 13 weeks ahead of the predicted due date, and is entitled to up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave;
- upon completing a pregnancy leave, a new mother is entitled to up to 61 weeks consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave; and
- a non-birth parent or adopting parent is entitled to up to 62 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave, which must commence within 78 weeks after the child or children are born.
Bill 6 provides for certain transition provisions applicable to pregnancy and parental leaves. In particular, if an eligible employee requests a leave under section 50 or 51, but has not yet started their leave, then the new pregnancy/parental leave provisions apply to the requested leave. Further, if an eligible employee (i.e. a parent of a child born on or after December 3, 2017 or an adopting parent of a child placed with the adopting parent on or after December 3, 2017) is already on parental leave, then the employee is entitled to extend the total length of their leave of absence to up to 62 weeks.
Compassionate Care Leave
Section 52.1 of the Act is amended to increase the available time for compassionate care leave, from the current 8 weeks, to up to 27 weeks of leave. Compassionate care leave permits an eligible employee to take unpaid time off work to care for or support a family member. The employee is required to provide the employer with a certificate from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner confirming that the family member “has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks.”
The new 27 week leave applies to employees who have already commenced or requested a compassionate care leave, as well as employees who have taken a compassionate care leave and 52 weeks or less has passed since the date the leave began. Such employees are entitled to extend the length of their leave of absence to up to a combined total of 27 weeks.
Leave Respecting Disappearance of Child
Section 52.3 is new to the Act. This provision provides for an unpaid job-protected leave of up to 52 weeks for eligible employees who experience the disappearance of a child due to a suspected crime. The leave of absence starts on the day the child disappears, and must be taken in a single uninterruptedly block of time unless the employer consents to the leave being taken in more than one block of time. The leave ends upon the earliest of:
(a) the date on which circumstances indicate it is no longer probable that the child's disappearance is a result of a crime;
(b) the date the employee is charged with a crime that resulted in the disappearance of the child;
(c) the date that is 14 days after the date on which the child is found alive;
(d) the date on which the child is found dead; or
(e) if the employer consents to the employee taking the leave in more than one block of time, then on the last day of the block of time which the employer consented to.
Leave Respecting Death of a Child
Section 52.4 is also new to the Act. This provision provides for an unpaid job-protected leave of up to 104 weeks for eligible employees who experience the death of a child under 19 years of age for any reason. The leave of absence starts on the day the child dies or is found dead, and must be taken in a single uninterruptedly block of time unless the employer consents to the leave being taken in more than one block of time. The leave ends upon the earliest of:
(a) the date the employee is charged with a crime that resulted in the death of the child; or
(b) if the employer consents to the employee taking the leave in more than one block of time, then on the last day of the block of time which the employer consented to.
Employers in British Columbia should review their current policies and collective agreements regarding leaves of absence to ensure compliance with the new requirements, particularly as some of these changes apply to employees who have already commenced such a leave.