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On May 20, 2021, the government of British Columbia passed Bill 13, Employment Standards Amendment Act (No. 2), 2021, which amends the Employment Standards Act, 1996 to provide employees with three days of paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19, as well as a permanent paid sick leave for any illness or injury.

Eligibility for Paid Leave for Reasons Related to COVID-19

Full-time and part-time employees are eligible for up to three days of paid sick leave if they are unable to work for the following reasons related to COVID-19:

  • the employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 and is acting in accordance with an order or instructions of a medical health officer or advice of a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse;
  • the employee is in quarantine or self-isolated as required by law; and/or
  • the employee is being directed to stay home by their employer due to exposure-related risks.

Employers will be required to pay employees their full wages for the duration of the leave. Employers without an existing paid sick leave program/policy will be able to seek reimbursement of up to $200 per employee per day from the government. Employers with employees earning more than $200 per day will be responsible for covering the excess daily wages.

This leave is in addition to the three days of unpaid leave that are already available to workers under the ESA, is separate from the workers’ compensation system and will not impact WorkSafeBC’s employer premiums or its accident fund. It will only be in effect until December 31, 2021. WorkSafe BC will administer the reimbursement program. Details on this program and how employers can register will be made available in June.

Permanent Paid Sick Leave Day

Bill 13 also introduces provisions for a permanent paid sick leave program for workers who cannot work due to any illness or injury starting January 1, 2022. While Bill 13 does not provide any further details relating to the number of paid days and other supports for this permanent leave, the Government of British Columbia has announced that details will be determined following consultations with relevant stakeholders over the next several months. We will continue to monitor for further information.

Key Takeaways

Employers should review the amendments to the ESA and review existing policies and practices to address the availability of this leave. Eligible employers should also monitor WorkSafe BC’s website for details on the reimbursement program and how to register and apply for a reimbursement.

Because employees are not required to provide a doctor’s note in order to take a COVID-19 related sick day, employers should train human resources staff on validating and managing COVID-related leave requests and remind staff about the sensitive nature of the information being collected and the need to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Governments across Canada are rapidly responding to the impact that COVID-19 continues to have on economic and employment life. The provinces and territories are regularly amending COVID-19 related economic measures and extending minimum protections and other provinces have started to introduce paid sick days for reasons related to COVID-19. For example, the Ontario government passed Bill 284, COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, 2021 amending the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA“) to require employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid leave if they miss work for reasons related to COVID-19. Similarly, provinces such as Manitoba, have added a paid leave for COVID-19 vaccinations. We continue to monitor changes as other provinces and territories introduce similar leaves.