Paid sick leave coming to BC and the provinces?

On 20 May 2020, the Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, stated that BC could develop its own paid sick leave program and “go it alone”, but noted that the federal government should take the lead on the initiative. A few days later, the federal government committed to talking with the provinces and territories on ensuring that every worker in Canada can access 10 days of paid sick leave a year.

The federal NDP and Canadian Labour Congress  (CLC) have publicly supported this proposal of providing pay to employees who are off work sick.

The federal government, under the Canada Labour Code and its regulations, has jurisdiction over federally regulated workplaces, including hours of work and sick pay provisions.  However, since the provinces each set the standards in workplace law in their respective jurisdictions, individual provinces will have to change these laws before the majority of workers across Canada have access to these proposed benefits.

What’s the current law on sick leave?

If an illness has some degree of permanence and is classified as a “disability,” human rights legislation obligates employers to accommodate employees up to the point of undue hardship.  Very short term illnesses, however, would not trigger this obligation.

Providing access to 10 days paid sick leave would fill a real gap for many employees who find themselves unable to attend work due to illness.  While some employees can already access paid sick leave days from their employer, or have paid vacation days they can use instead, many others must simply rely on savings to replace that lost income. In British Columbia, for example, the Employment Standards Act (“the Act”) provides employees with the right to take up to three days of unpaid leave for illness or injury.  However, the Act does not require employers to pay employees who are away from work sick – even if they’re seriously ill or bed-ridden.

How can employees and employers work under the current regime of unpaid sick leave?

Without new sick pay legislation, sick employees are often faced with the dilemma of working while sick or losing a big part of their paycheque to illness.  However, it’s never made business sense for employers to have employees showing up to work sick and infecting other employees – even before this became a life-threatening situation when COVID-19 arrived.

Because of this, Labour Rights Law encourages employees and employers to work together to manage short-term illnesses and seek out solutions like working from home, if practicable, or engaging flextime policies by which an employee can make up time lost to illness in the future.

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