Two New Paid Leaves for Employees: Temporary COVID Leave and Permanent Sick Leave

British Columbia recently passed legislation requiring employers to provide employees with two new separate paid leaves:

  • Three paid days of leave for absences due to COVID-19; and
  • Paid sick leave for an undetermined number of days.

The paid COVID leave came into force on May 20, 2021 and expires on December 31, 2021. The paid sick leave comes into force on January 1, 2022, and has no expiry date.

Three Days of Paid COVID Leave

The British Columbia Employment Standards Act was amended last year to provide unpaid job protection leaves to individuals unable to work as a result of COVID-19. The criteria to qualify for the unpaid leave are fairly broad, and include the need to provide care to an eligible person for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare or similar facility closure. The criteria to qualify for a paid COVID leave are narrower. Employees are entitled to a paid COVID leave where:

  • the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • the employee is in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with public health direction; or
  • the employer, due to the employer’s concern about the employee’s exposure to others, has directed the employee not to work.

Employees who satisfy the above criteria are entitled to three days of paid leave consisting of their average day’s wages. The government will reimburse employers who do not currently have a paid sick leave policy up to $200 per day for each employee on leave.

This paid leave is only available to individuals who cannot work due to the reasons enumerated above. For example, it does not apply to individuals who cannot work due to childcare responsibilities arising from COVID such as a COVID-related school closure. That said, such individuals may still be entitled to an unpaid leave of absence. Conversely, the paid leave applies to individuals self-isolating due to a public health order as they await a COVID test result. The government has said that the purpose of the leave is to financially “bridge the gap” between when employees first become aware of a potential illness and when they can access the Canada Sickness Recovery Benefit, thus encouraging employees not to attend work while ill.

Permanent Paid Sick Leave

Employees will be entitled to an unknown number of paid sick days beginning January 1, 2022. The legislation introducing this paid leave is relatively sparse. The provincial government passed legislation last year entitling employees to three unpaid sick days. The number of paid sick days will be finalized following consultation with the business community, labour organizations and Indigenous partners.

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