On May 8, 2019, Bill 18 - Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2019 passed third reading in the BC Legislature. Bill 18 proposes to expand the definition of “firefighter” contained in the Workers Compensation Act (the “WCA”) for the purpose of presumptions in favour of compensation for firefighters. If passed, fire investigators, forest fire fighters and firefighters employed by First Nations, band councils and other Indigenous organizations will be included in the definition of “firefighter” contained in the WCA.
This amendment to the WCA is being made to reflect changes in understanding around the risk of carcinogen exposure prevalent in forest firefighting and to rectify gaps in coverage for certain types of firefighters that exist under the current legislation. Bill 18 also follows amendments to the WCA made in 2018 to include presumptions in favour of compensation for certain mental disorders for certain occupations, including firefighters.
Update on Amendments to the ESA
On May 13, 2019, second reading of Bill 8 - Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2019 was held. Second reading is where a bill is further introduced and MLAs debate its general principles and goal.
During second reading, Labour Minister Harry Bains provided additional details around some of the Government’s proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”).
- Wage Recovery Period: Bill 8 seeks to extend the wage recovery period to enable recovery of 12 months’ owed wages, up from the current six months – with the possibility of extending the period to 24 months in extreme circumstances. Minister Bains suggested that the 12-month recovery period will apply to complaints currently before the Employment Standards Branch where a determination is not made (or a complaint is not settled) prior to the passing of Bill 8 into law.
- Ability to Waive Monetary Penalties: Bill 8 proposes to provide the Director of Employment Standards with authority to waive a mandatory penalty arising from non-compliance with the ESA. While employers will have to wait to see what gets set out in the Regulations, Minister Bains indicated that the type of situations that may end up resulting in the Director waiving a penalty include: where an employer, following an investigation, pays all wages owed to employees; where the employer’s contravention of the ESA is accidental and not due to negligence; and where the employer has a good basis for contesting the matter including, for example, where there is uncertainty around the proper interpretation of the ESA.
- Complaint Investigations: Bill 8 would require the Employment Standards Branch to conduct a preliminary review and investigate all complaints accepted by the Employment Standards Branch. Minister Bains indicated that this will result in the Employment Standards Branch focussing less on “speedy resolutions” and more on digging into matters including conducting broader investigations of the workplace where a complaint shows a systemic problem.