BC’s minority NDP government introduced Bill 6 in the BC Legislature on April 9, 2018. Bill 6 introduces the first changes to BC workplace legislation by this relatively new government. In this Bulletin, we highlight some of the more important changes proposed in the Bill. The Bill contains many amendments dealing with the BC Employment Standards Act (“ESA”). Amongst 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 leaves. Bill 6 needs to be approved by the Legislature and receive Royal Assent before going into effect.

If the Legislature approves the amendments, the leave provisions of BC’s employment standards laws will be amongst the most generous of any jurisdiction in Canada. We expect that the NDP government will seek broader amendments to the ESA. It is considering seeking recommendations from stakeholders on a wider review of the ESA.

The proposed amendments in Bill 6 include:

1. Pregnancy Leave (Section 50)

Changes to pregnancy leave will allow expecting mothers an entitlement to 13 weeks of leave before the expected birth, increased from 11 weeks.

2. Parental Leave (Section 50)

The entitlement to parental leave for expectant or new mothers will provide them with the option of taking 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid, job protected leave when they are near 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 provide new mothers with a total possible leave of 78 weeks (18 months).

Changes to the ESA will also affect non-birth partners or adopting parents who will be entitled up to 62 consecutive weeks of parental leave, within 78 weeks of the child’s birth or adoption.

The changes to maternity and parental leaves will also be available to those who have requested leave but have yet to take it, already currently on leave and those planning to take a leave when the amendments come into force.

3. Crime-Related Child Disappearance Leave (Section 52.3)

This proposed amendment will provide a parent whose child (under 19) disappears as a result of crime with unpaid job protected leave of up to 52 weeks (1 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.

4. Child Death Leave (Section 52.4)

Child death leave would increase significantly from 3 days of “unpaid bereavement leave”

To 2 years (104 weeks) 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.

5. Compassionate Care Leave (Section 52.1)

Bill 6 will increase compassionate care leave from 8 weeks 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 total.

Action: Employers should review and update leave policies according to the proposed amendments in Bill 6. Particularly, employers who have a policy of topping up employment insurance (“EI”) benefits to 100% of an employee’s regular salary should consider the impact 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 in regards to extended leaves of absence.