The BC government has tabled an amendment to the Employment Standards Act (“ESA“) that will increase employees’ rights to unpaid leave not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also into the future. The proposed amendment grants employees the right to an indefinite amount of leave if they are dealing with specific disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has indicated that this section is time-limited and will be repealed after the pandemic. In addition to the response to COVID-19, the amendment also proposes to grant employees the right to three days of unpaid illness or injury leave each year. This is intended to be a permanent change and brings the ESA into harmony with employment legislation in other provinces.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BC government is amending the ESA to provide employees with an indefinite amount of unpaid leave in circumstances where:
- the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is acting in accordance with a medical professional’s advice;
- the employee is in quarantine or self-isolation because of a government order or guideline imposed by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control or the Public Health Agency of Canada;
- the employee’s employer has directed them not to work because the employer was concerned about the employee’s exposure to others;
- the employee is providing care for a child or adult dependent; or
- the employee is currently outside of BC and cannot return because of travel restrictions.
This section of the amendment is retroactive to January 27, 2020 – the date of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in BC. The retroactivity of the amendment could have potentially significant repercussions for employers and employees.
Unpaid Illness and Injury Leave
Under the new amendment, employees will be entitled to three days of unpaid leave for illness and injury in each calendar year. This amendment will be a permanent change to the ESA. The employer has the right to require reasonable proof of the employee’s injury or illness. This section is not retroactive and will come into force from the date of Royal Assent, which will likely be in the near future.
We will continue to keep you updated on legislative responses to the impacts of COVID-19. If you have any questions about your workplace and managing responses to COVID-19, feel free to contact Ryley Mennie, Lou Poskitt or Connor Levy from our Workplace Law Group.