On May 21, 2021, we reported in a blog post that the British Columbia government passed Bill 13, Employment Standards Amendment Act (No. 2), 2021, which amends the Employment Standards Regulation to add a permanent and paid sick leave program. The Government did not provide details on the leave at that time. However, on November 24, 2021, the Government announced that beginning January 1, 2022, employees in British Columbia must be provided with a minimum of five paid sick days each year.

Background

This past fall, the Government of British Columbia sought consultation and feedback from employees and employers across the province to determine what entitlements currently exist in workplaces and whether three, five, or ten days of paid sick leave should be implemented. In addition to gathering feedback from over 60,000 participants, the Government also conducted research into other countries that currently offer paid sick leave. Ultimately, it was determined that employees should be provided with five paid sick days each year.

Features of the Leave

The paid sick leave program applies to all employees covered under the British Columbia Employment Standards Act (“the ESA“), including part-time workers, and those who have worked for an employer for more than 90 consecutive days. Employees taking the leave must be paid an “average day’s pay” for each day of the leave. This represents the amount typically paid to the employee for work done during the 30-day period before the leave, divided by the number of days the employee worked or earned wages within that 30-day period.

The leave will be entirely funded by the employer and is not subject to reimbursement from the Government. The leave should be treated similarly to other statutory leaves under the ESA. Employers that do not provide paid sick days, or provide less than five paid days, will need to provide or top up employees’ paid sick days to at least five per year. Similarly, the days can be reconciled for employers that already provide five or more paid sick days, so that employees are not entitled to an additional five days on top of their existing contractual entitlement.

Key Takeaways

This leave is separate and distinct from the previously introduced temporary paid sick day reimbursement program. That leave currently provides employees with three paid sick days for reasons related to COVID-19, but is set to expire on December 31, 2021, right before the new five-day permanent program takes effect.

While the new leave protects employees from no longer having to lose pay when taking a sick day, it is also beneficial for employers, as it can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace by giving employees the assurance that staying home from work when they feel ill will not have a financial impact on them.

British Columbia is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to make paid sick leave a permanent feature of its employment standards legislation, but given the nation-wide call for paid sick leave, other provinces and territories may release similar amendments to their legislation. Employers in the province should review the changes to the ESA and ensure that applicable policies and practices are updated to address the new leave.

We will continue to monitor changes if additional jurisdictions introduce similar leaves.