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British Columbia provides three days of paid leave for absences due to COVID-19

May 28, 2021

On May 20, 2021, British Columbia passed Bill 13, which amends the British Columbia Employment Standards Act to provide for up to three days of paid leave in 2021 for British Columbia employees who are unable to work due to COVID-19. The legislation also introduces permanent paid leave for workers who cannot work due to any illness or injury beginning in 2022.

COVID-19-related paid leave

Under the provisions of Bill 13, employees who are eligible for COVID-19-related paid leave are eligible to receive up to three days’ pay during such leave. The unpaid COVID-19-related leave was introduced in a previous amendment, as discussed in the May 2020 News & Views, and applies to full- and part-time employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are awaiting for test results and must self-isolate in accordance with public health guidelines, among other criteria.

An employer must pay an eligible employee an amount equal to the length of the leave period multiplied by the average day’s pay, subject to a minimum amount to be provided in regulation. The precise amount of leave pay is to be calculated according to the provisions of forthcoming regulations. While the government of British Columbia has suggested that employers will be reimbursed up to $200 per worker per day, it has not indicated that the amount of leave pay employers are required to pay to employees will be capped.

The COVID-19-related paid leave provision came into force with the passage of the legislation, and will be repealed automatically on December 31, 2021.

Employer reimbursement for COVID-19-related paid leave

The British Columbia government has indicated that employers that are required to pay employees on COVID-19-related paid leave will be reimbursed by the province, provided they do not already offer paid sick leave benefits.

The province says that the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia (WorkSafeBC) will administer the reimbursement program, and that the program does not form part of the workers’ compensation system and will not impact employers’ premiums or accident funds.

The details of the reimbursement program are expected to be made available in June.

Permanent paid sick leave

Bill 13 also introduces provisions providing that British Columbia employers must pay employee who take illness or injury leave starting on January 1, 2022. The length of the paid leave period will be determined following a public consultation.

Employers will be required to pay eligible employees an amount equal to the length of the leave period multiplied by the employee’s average day’s pay. The average day’s pay will be determined by the same formula as is used to calculate the amount of COVID-19-related paid leave, as described above, and too may be subject to a minimum amount to be provided in regulation. 

Pension accrual

British Columbia employment standards legislation requires that employees continue to accrue pensionable service during required job-protected leave periods (including both paid and unpaid portions of COVID-19-related leave).

Comment

In introducing paid COVID-19-related leave, British Columbia follows Ontario, which introduced a similar program in April 2021.

British Columbia will join Quebec, Prince Edward Island and the federal government in providing a permanent paid sick leave entitlement. Quebec provides for two days per year of paid leave due to sickness or for certain other specified reasons after three months of service, while Prince Edward Island provides for one day of paid sick leave for employees with at least five years of service annually. Federally-regulated employees are entitled to five paid days per year of leave due to sickness or other certain other specified reasons.

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