Changes to BC’s Employment Standards Act

General Litigation

Employment Standards Changes Offer More Protected Leave for Employees

June 2021

As BC ramps up its vaccination efforts, the provincial government has announced new amendments to BC’s Employment Standards Act to offer more protected COVID-19 related leave for employees. The amendments are designed to make it as easy as possible for British Columbians to get vaccinated. Additionally, the circumstances in which employees are able to take an unpaid, job-protected leave from work have been expanded. These changes are important for employers to be aware of, not just moving forward but also looking back at the past year.

The first amendment enable employees to take a paid leave of up to three hours to be vaccinated, as well as an additional paid leave for the second dose. Workers are entitled to this leave regardless of the amount of time they have been employed. Additionally, the amount they are paid during this leave must be at least minimum wage. Both full-time and part-time employees are eligible for this leave. Employers are able to ask for proof that an employee is entitled to the leave, such as confirmation of a vaccine appointment. However, employers are not able to ask that an employee provide a doctor’s note or proof that they have actually received the vaccine. These amendments are retroactive to April 19, 2021.

Additionally, the provincial government also expanded the situations in which employees are able to take an unpaid, job-protected leave related to COVID-19 to include the following situations:

  • They are assisting a dependent who is being vaccinated;
  • They are more susceptible to COVID-19 in the opinion of a medical profession due to an underlying medical condition, treatment for a medical condition, or because they have contracted another illness.

Previous amendments allow an employee to take an unpaid, job-protected leave when:

  • They have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and were acting on advice from a medical practitioner;
  • They are in quarantine or self-isolation pursuant to a provincial order, an order made under the Quarantine Act, or the guidelines of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control or the Public Health Agency of Canada;
  • They are providing care to a child or dependent adult;
  • They have been directed by their employer not to return to work due to concerns about a COVID-19 exposure; and/or
  • They are outside of BC and cannot return to the province because of border and/or travel restrictions.

The changes bring BC’s COVID-19 leave amendments in line with the Federal Canada Recovery Sickness benefit and the Canada Recovery caregiving benefit, which were changed in the months since BC first introduced its COVID-19 leave provisions. Unpaid leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, which is when the first presumptive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in BC.

For advice on how this might affect your business and to navigate these changes moving forward (along with all other Covid related changes that happen at a rapid pace), please reach out to any one of the lawyers in our Labour and Employment group.

This article is intended to be an overview of the law and is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that this article does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Rather, readers should obtain specific legal advice in relation to the issues they are facing.