The Government of B.C. has tabled legislation which, for now, entitles employees to three paid sick days for leave related to COVID-19. Employers will be required to pay employees their full wages (based on an average of the prior 30 days). The proposed law (Bill 13) also allows for a permanent paid sick leave to be prescribed in the future.
The B.C. government has promised it will reimburse employers without an existing sick leave program for up to $200 per day for each worker to help cover costs. For those employers paying wages in excess of $200 per day, the employers will be required to cover the wages owed above $200. WorkSafe will administer the employer reimbursement program.
COVID-19 Paid Leave
Employees will be eligible for the COVID-19 paid leave on the same basis as the existing unpaid leave under the new COVID-19 Related Leave provisions of the Employment Standards Act (the “Act”), if:
- the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is acting in accordance with instructions or an order of a medical health officer, or advice of their health care practitioner;
- the employee is in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with an order or guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada or BC CDC guidelines (e.g. the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, has symptoms of COVID-19, is a close contact of or live in a household with a person with COVID-19);
- the employer, due to the employer's concern about the employee's exposure to others, has directed the employee not to work;
While an employee is required on request to provide reasonably sufficient proof that one of the above circumstances applies, an employer must not request, and an employee is not required to provide, a note from a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse for such proof. Thus, in some cases, proof may be challenging and an employer may have to accept what the employee says about the circumstances of their leave. Employers will also want to encourage employees who may be contagious to stay home.
In the event the provisions of a collective agreement meet or exceed these benefits, the collective agreement will operate. However, if the collective agreement does not meet or exceed the paid sick leave requirements set out in the Act, these provisions will be deemed to be incorporated into the collective agreement.
For now, the “eligibility period” is proposed to end on December 31, 2021. However, Bill 13 includes a provision mandating paid leave for any personal illness or injury for “up to the number of days prescribed,” so paid leave can be expanded and extended by regulation in the future.
Permanent Paid Sick Leave in 2022
The legislation is designed to create a permanent paid sick leave for workers who cannot work due to any illness or injury beginning Jan. 1, 2022. The number of days covered is to be determined and set by regulation. The B.C. provincial government says this will be determined “following consultations with the business community, labour organizations, Indigenous partners and other stakeholders.”
Undoubtedly, there will be many interested parties with something to say about the extent and application of a permanent paid sick leave in these consultations. The Province’s press release estimates that 50% of B.C. employees do not currently have access to paid sick leave. Therefore, these proposed rights and obligations will impact many employees as well as their employers.
We will continue to follow developments on this issue, so employers can plan accordingly for these significant changes.
Ryan Berger is a leading privacy and employment lawyer, with a primary focus on providing strategic advice to businesses and employers.
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