On April 9, 2018, the B.C. government introduced Bill 6, the Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2018, in the B.C. legislature. Bill 6 will amend the B.C. Employment Standards Act (the “ESA”) with respect to maternity leave, parental leave, and compassionate care leave, as well as establish two new job-protected leaves.

The proposed amendments to the ESA in Bill 6 include the following:

Pregnancy (Maternity) Leave

  • Pregnancy leave may begin up to 13 weeks before the child’s expected birth date.
  • An employee who requests pregnancy leave after giving birth to a child is entitled to up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave, beginning on the date of the child’s birth.

Parental Leave

  • Birth mothers may take up to 61 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave, which must begin, unless the employer and employee agree otherwise, immediately after any pregnancy leave taken.
  • Non-birth parents and adopting parents may take up to 62 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave, which must begin within 78 weeks (18 months) after the birth of the child.

Compassionate Care Leave

  • An employee who requests compassionate care leave is entitled to up to 27 weeks of unpaid leave to provide care or support to a family member who is terminally ill or has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death. The 27 weeks of leave may be taken within a 52 week period.

Crime-Related Child Disappearance Leave

  • If a child under the age of 19 disappears as a result of crime, the child’s parent will be entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 52 weeks, beginning on the date that the child disappears. The leave must be taken in a single, continuous period or on an intermittent basis with the employer’s consent.
  • If the child is found alive, the parent is entitled to remain on leave for 14 days. If the child is found dead, if it is no longer probable that the child’s disappearance is a result of crime, or if the parent is charged with a crime that resulted in the disappearance of the child, the leave ends.

Child Death Leave

  • If a child under the age of 19 dies, a parent is entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 104 weeks (two years). Child death leave must be taken in a single, continuous period or on an intermittent basis with the employer’s consent.

Bill 6 also includes transitional provisions that clarify whether the old or new provisions will apply if a person is on, has requested, or has not yet requested maternity, parental, or compassionate care leave.

One of the key purposes of Bill 6 is to allow employees in British Columbia to take advantage of the new federal employment insurance (“E.I.”) benefits that came into effect on December 3, 2017.

For 2018, those who are eligible to receive E.I. maternity benefits may receive 55% of their average weekly insurable earnings across 15 weeks (up to a maximum amount of $547 per week). E.I. maternity benefits may now be paid as early as 12 weeks before the child’s expected date of birth, and may end as late as 17 weeks after the child’s actual date of birth.

For 2018, those who are eligible to receive E.I. parental benefits may choose between receiving:

  • 55% of their average weekly insurable earnings across 35 weeks within a period of 12 months after the week in which the child was born or placed for adoption (up to a maximum amount of $547 per week); or
  • 33% of their average weekly insurable earnings across 61 weeks within a period of 18 months after the week in which the child was born or placed for adoption (up to a maximum amount of $328 per week). This option is available only if the child was born on or after December 3, 2017.

As was the case before December 3, 2017, E.I. compassionate care benefits may be paid for up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

Implications for Employers

Before British Columbians can take the new and extended leaves proposed in Bill 6, Bill 6 must pass through three Readings in total and review by Members of the Legislative Assembly before it can receive Royal Assent, which allows the bill to become law.

In the interim, employers should consider how to deal with potential issues arising from the extended leaves, such as the financial and administrative impact on an employer’s policies or agreement to provide top-up pay during the leave, and employer and employee obligations to maintain their share of any payments to pension, medical or other plan beneficial to the employee during the leave.