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
A backgrounder follows.