The Province has made two significant changes to the Employment Standards Act to better support workers both during the COVID-19 public health emergency and in the long term.
Firstly, changes will allow workers to immediately take unpaid, job-protected leave if they are unable to work for reasons relating to COVID-19. This means workers who are ill, need to self-isolate, need to care for their child or other dependent, or whose employer is concerned that the employee may expose others to risk, will be able to take leave without putting their job at risk.
“These proactive changes ensure that no one will lose their jobs for prioritizing their health and safety, or the health and safety of their loved ones and their community,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “Given these extraordinary times, we are ensuring that the legislation provides protections for those impacted by COVID-19.”
The leave will be retroactive to Jan. 27, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in B.C. During this public health emergency, people can take this job-protected leave for as long as the circumstance that requires them to be away from work applies.
Secondly, to better support workers on an ongoing basis, the changes also provide up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for people who cannot work due to illness or injury. This is a permanent change to the act that brings B.C. in line with all other provinces in Canada.
“This crisis has highlighted the importance of having permanent job-protected illness or injury leave in place for people in this province,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. “We’re stepping up and bringing in this new leave to support workers over the long term, beyond this crisis.”
While on job-protected leave related to the COVID-19 crisis, workers may also be eligible for financial support through expanded Employment Insurance benefits through the federal government.
Improving fairness for workers and ensuring balance in workplaces are shared priorities between government and the BC Green Party caucus and are part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.
It is important that all employers and workers understand their rights, obligations and where to go for assistance — as well as keep informed of both the provincial and federal supports for workers and businesses as they become available.
- For up-to-date, non-health information, including provincial and federal programs, call 1 888 COVID-19 or visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support
- For more information on B.C.’s employment standards, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/employment-standards-advice/employment-standards
- For more information on federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits, visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-sickness.html
- Five things to know about job-protected leaves: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/COVID19_Job_Protected_Leave_Factsheet.pdf
- For a Punjabi translation, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/2020-Mar23_Punjabi-NR_Three-DayLeave_COVID-19_ESA_Amendments.pdf
THE DETAILS: New job-protected leaves for workers
The Government of B.C. has passed amendments to the Employment Standards Act that provide workers covered under the act with job-protected leave if they are unable to work for reasons relating to COVID-19.
The amendments also include a new three-day unpaid, job-protected sick leave that will support people on an ongoing basis when they cannot work due to illness or injury.
COVID-19 job-protected leave details:
- The immediate job-protected leave allows workers affected by COVID-19 to stay home as needed without the risk of losing their job.
- The leave is retroactive to Jan. 27, 2020, when the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in B.C.
- This protection is available to people considered employees under the Employment Standards Act who are unable to work for the following reasons:
- they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are acting in accordance with instructions or an order of a medical health officer or the advice of a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse;
- they are in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the federal Quarantine Act, or guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control or the Public Health Agency of Canada;
- they have been directed by their employer to stay home because of concerns about their exposure to others;
- they are unable to return to B.C. because of a travel or border restriction; or
- they are providing care to their minor child or a dependent adult who is their child or former foster child, including when a school, daycare or similar facility has closed.
- There is no limit on how long people can take the leave. As long as someone is unable to work due to one of the reasons above, they will be eligible for this leave.
- In addition to job protection, workers may be eligible for financial supports through expanded federal Employment Insurance benefits.
- Workers not covered by the Employment Standards Act (e.g., contractors) are also eligible for financial supports through federal Employment Insurance benefits.
- As with other job leaves, workers may need to give reasonable evidence of eligibility if their employer requests it, but a doctor’s note will not be required.
- The COVID-19 job-protected leave is tied specifically to the COVID-19 emergency and will be repealed when it is no longer needed.
Permanent three-day job-protected illness or injury leave details:
- People considered employees under the Employment Standards Act will be able to take up to three days of unpaid, job-protected sick leave per calendar year if they are unable to work due to illness or injury.
- This brings B.C. in line with most other Canadian jurisdictions, which all offer some form of job-protected illness leave.
- To qualify, people must have worked for their employer for at least 90 days.
- As with other job leaves, workers may need to give reasonable evidence of eligibility if their employer requests it.
- This is a permanent change to the Employment Standards Act and will stay in place when the COVID-19 provisions are repealed.