Paid sick leave will be standard for workers (including full- and part-time, temporary and casual) in British Columbia beginning Jan. 1, 2022, with a minimum of five paid sick days each year. B.C. becomes the first province in Canada to legislate this level of paid time off for workers who fall ill. This new workplace protection applies to all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act, including part-time workers.
Effective January 1, 2022, employers will be required to provide their eligible employees with up to 5 days of paid sick leave per year if they need to stay home because they are sick or injured. Employers will need to pay their employees their regular wages for these days, which do not have to be taken consecutively. Employees are also entitled to 3 days of unpaid sick leave.
“Beginning in the new year, workers will no longer lose pay for making the responsible choice of taking a sick day,” said Premier John Horgan. “The pandemic has highlighted that when workers don’t have paid sick leave, it’s bad for them, it’s bad for their co-workers and it’s bad for their employers.”
During a two-month period at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace outbreaks led to nearly 200 businesses being shut down in the Fraser Health region alone. Workplaces with pre-existing paid sick leave policies saw less workplace transmission.
The Province consulted with workers and employers around B.C. to find out what currently exists in the way of paid sick leave and to gather feedback on three options – three, five or 10 days of paid sick leave – to come into effect in the new year. More than 60,000 people participated in the engagement.
Feedback from the workplaces that already provide paid sick leave found that most workers take between zero and five days of sick leave each year.
“Many of the people who lack paid sick leave are the same workers we depended on most during the pandemic,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. “Lower-wage workers who help us get our groceries, prepare our food at restaurants and make sure we have the services we need deserve a basic protection like paid sick leave.”
Bains noted that in the current labour shortage, workers are looking for additional benefits like paid sick leave, adding that this measure will help build a resilient workforce in British Columbia regardless of the challenges faced in the future.
“We have learned in this pandemic how important it is for workers to be able to stay home if they are sick. Paid sick leave is one more way we can support workers and help prevent the transmission of disease,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “It gives people the means to stay away from work if they’re sick and reduces the risk to their co-workers or others they come in contact with through their jobs.”
The Province looked to other jurisdictions that have mandated paid sick leave, including in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and several European countries. Their experiences have shown the cost increases for most businesses were less than expected. They also experienced significant benefits, including increased productivity and retention of trained staff, reduced risks of injury, improved morale, and increased labour-force participation.
“A workforce is the greatest asset for a business, and paid sick leave helps maintain healthy, efficient workplaces for all,” said Anita Huberman, president, and CEO, Surrey Board of Trade. “Not all workers have employers that offer paid sick leave, especially for essential or frontline workers, many of whom are in Surrey. That is why the Surrey Board of Trade supports the five-day option for B.C.”
Sheila Lewis, provincial women’s manager, Métis Nation British Columbia, said: “Paid sick leave will be particularly beneficial to women who are more likely to be balancing work and family responsibilities. Sick leave will help women – especially Indigenous women – reattach to the labour market, providing them more stability and security, while benefiting employers through improved productivity, loyalty and recruitment.”
- More than one million workers in B.C. do not currently have access to paid sick leave, mostly those in low-wage jobs, who are more often women or racialized workers.
- The paid sick leave protection will apply to all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA), including part-time employees. The ESA does not cover federally regulated sectors, self-employed workers and employees in professions and occupations explicitly excluded from the ESA.
- In May 2021, amendments to the ESA laid the groundwork for establishing minimum standards for permanent paid sick leave.
- The May 2021 amendments also created a temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave program for up to three days of leave, until Dec. 31, 2021. To support businesses that do not already provide paid sick leave, government is reimbursing employers up to $200-a-day per worker, to help cover their employees’ wages for the COVID-19 paid sick leave.
- For more information about paid sick leave, visit: http://www.gov.bc.ca/PaidSickLeave
- Employment Standards Branch: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/employment-standards-advice/employment-standards/time-off?keyword=paid&keyword=sick&keyword=leave
- Paid sick leave engagement process: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/permanent-paid-sick-leave/
Permanent paid sick leave public engagement process
Following the amendments to the Employment Standards Act that laid the groundwork to establish B.C.’s first permanent paid sick leave, a comprehensive public engagement process was undertaken to determine the minimum number of days of sick leave employees will be entitled to.
More than 60,000 responses were received during the public consultation that ran from early August until late October.
In the first phase of consultations, more than 26,000 workers and businesses completed surveys on the current arrangements for paid sick leave, and what is needed.
Highlights from the Phase 1 survey responses:
- Many employees without access to paid sick leave reported regularly going to work sick or returning to work before fully recovering.
- Employers and employees both reported concerns about employees coming to work sick and infecting others.
- Approximately 60% of employers do not offer employer-paid sick leave to any of their employees.
- Of the employers that offer paid sick leave to their employees:
- Nearly 45% provide three to five days a year
- About 25% provide six to 10 days
- About 20% provide more than 10 days
- Nearly 10% provide less than three days
- Of those who have access to employer-paid sick leave, about 70% indicated they typically do not use all of the paid sick days they get each year.
In the second phase, informed by the surveys, three options were developed for the minimum entitlement: three, five or 10 days: 33,975 workers and businesses provided feedback.
Highlights from the Phase 2 options responses:
- Support for the three options – either strongly favoured or somewhat favoured:
- Option 1 (three days) – 64% of workers; 44% of employers
- Option 2 (five days) – 75% of workers; 28% of employers
- Option 3 (10 days) – 81% of workers; 19% of employers