COVID-19 has prompted a series of legislative changes across the country, including British Columbia. Two new leaves have been added to the province’s Employment Standards Act (ESA), to protect workers and their jobs. Business owners must now learn their new obligations and provide eligible employees with their entitlements if they are to operate legally.
A New Sick Leave
Previously, there was no minimum standard for sick leave in British Columbia. It was up to employers to decide how to manage illness and injury absences in the workplace. The new sick leave entitles workers to 3 days of unpaid, job-protected leave per year due to personal injury or illness. Workers cannot be penalized or terminated for taking this leave. This is a permanent change to the ESA, effective as of March 23, 2020.
To be eligible for sick leave, employees must have worked at least 90 days with their employer. The employer may ask the employee for proof that they are unable to come into work.
A new unpaid, job-protected leave specifically for COVID-19 has also been added to the ESA. As this leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, employees who have been terminated since then for reasons related to COVID-19 must be offered re-employment in their previous position or a similar one. This leave is temporary and will be removed from the ESA once it is no longer required.
An employee may take COVID-19 leave for the following reasons:
- If they are diagnosed with COVID-19
- If they are providing care to dependents due to closures of schools, daycares and similar facilities
- If they are in quarantine or isolation due to an order from a provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada) or according to guidance from the British Columbia Centre for Disease control or the Public Health Agency of Canada
- If they are asked not to work by their employer over concerns of their exposure to other individuals
- If they cannot return to their province due to travel restrictions
This leave may be taken for as long as is justified. Employers may ask for proof if it is reasonable in the circumstances, but they cannot ask for medical notes.
Updating Your Workplace Policies
It is important to stay up to date with legislation changes as they will affect how you run your business. As a result, many businesses will need to amend their policies now that new leaves of absence have been introduced.
By updating your leave policies, you clearly communicate the new changes to your employees and make them aware of their rights and your expectations. Employees should always have easy access to this documentation for their reference.
Without policies, management of absences can be inconsistent, undocumented and unorganized. In turn, absenteeism and poor management can affect your bottom line. Having policies in place is necessary to protect your business and keep it running smoothly.
If you are unsure of how to amend your contracts, handbooks and other documentation to align with current legislation, contact Pierre Bourbonnais on +1 (604) 351 1645 or email [email protected].
We are also running two webinars a week on the latest updates, hosted by one of our legal specialists. Click here to register. Your registration code is SMLBC01.