British Columbia's minority New Democratic Party government introduced Bill 6 into the British Columbia legislature on April 9 2018, marking the first changes to British Columbia workplace legislation by this relatively new government. This update highlights some of the more important changes proposed in the bill, which contains many amendments dealing with the British Columbia Employment Standards Act. Among other things, the proposed amendments align provincial leave benefits with the changes made to federal employment insurance benefits. Bill 6 would also provide new and extended maternity, parental and compassionate care leave. Bill 6 must be approved by the legislature and receive royal assent before it can come into effect.
If the legislature approves the amendments, the leave provisions of British Columbia's employment standards laws will be among the most generous of any jurisdiction in Canada. The New Democratic Party government is expected to seek broader amendments to the Employment Standards Act, and is considering seeking recommendations from stakeholders on a wider review of the act.
The proposed amendments in Bill 6 include the following.
Changes to pregnancy leave will entitle expectant mothers to 13 weeks of leave before the birth, increased from 11 weeks.
New or expectant mothers will have the option of taking 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave towards the end of their pregnancy or after childbirth. New mothers will also be entitled to begin up to 61 additional consecutive weeks of parental leave immediately after their 17-week pregnancy leave. This would allow new mothers a total possible leave of 18 months.
Changes to the Employment Standards Act will also allow non-birth partners or adoptive parents up to 62 consecutive weeks of parental leave within 18 months of the child's birth or adoption.
The changes to maternity and parental leave will also be available to those who:
- have requested leave but have yet to take it;
- are already on leave; and
- are planning to take leave once the amendments come into force.
This proposed amendment will allow a parent whose child (under 19) disappears as a result of crime to take unpaid, job-protected leave of up to one year. 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.
Child death leave will increase significantly from three days of "unpaid bereavement leave" to two years' unpaid, job-protected leave following the death of a child (under 19). Child death leave must be taken in a single, continuous period or on an intermittent basis with the employer's consent.
Bill 6 will increase compassionate care leave from eight to 27 weeks. Compassionate care leave is available to employees who must care for a family member that is terminally ill and has a significant risk of death within 26 weeks. Bill 6 would allow an employee to take the leave any time within a 52-week period, but the leave cannot exceed 27 weeks in total.
Employers should review and update their leave policies according to the proposed amendments in Bill 6. In particular, employers that have a policy of topping up employment insurance benefits to 100% of an employee's regular salary should consider the impact that the amendments will have and, specifically, how employees will be able to extend their leave for a longer period. Employers may also want to budget for possible increased costs with regard to extended leaves of absence.
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