B.C. introduces paid sick leave for workers

Workers in British Columbia will soon have access to a paid sick leave program that will support them to stay home when they are sick during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation introduced on May 11 will also include permanent paid illness leave.

Amendments to the Employment Standards Act will bring in three days of paid leave related to COVID-19, including having symptoms, self-isolating, and waiting for a test result.

Employers will be required to pay workers their full wages and the province will reimburse employers without an existing sick leave program up to $200 per day for each worker to cover costs.  

“The best way to protect workers, their families and co-workers during this pandemic is to have a paid sick leave program in place,” said Premier John Horgan. “Our made-in-B.C. program will help cover the costs for hard-hit businesses so we can all get through this pandemic together and move to a strong economic recovery.”

The legislation will also create a permanent paid sick leave for workers who cannot work due to any illness or injury beginning Jan. 1, 2022. The number of paid sick days and other supports will be determined following consultations with the business community, labour organizations, Indigenous partners, and other stakeholders.

The short-term paid leave related to COVID-19 will bridge the gap for workers between when they first feel sick and when they can access the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. B.C.’s COVID-19 paid sick leave will continue to protect workers longer until Dec. 31, 2021.

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To support this leave, WorkSafeBC will set up and administer the employer reimbursement program on behalf of the province. For the small percentage of employers that have a highly paid workforce, but do not already have paid sick leave, those employers will be required to cover any remaining wages owed above $200 for each COVID-19 sick day taken.

An estimated 50 per cent of B.C. employees do not currently have access to paid sick leave. This means upwards of one million workers in B.C. will benefit from receiving these new paid sick leaves. The aim is that the ability to take paid leave will be especially beneficial to many vulnerable and low-wage workers (often women or migrant workers) who lack benefits.

A B.C. provincial release notes these amendments “build on a series of legislative improvements and supports provided by the B.C. government, the Ministry of Labour and WorkSafeBC since the beginning of the pandemic.”