B.C. will require employers to provide a minimum of five days of sick pay for all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act starting in January 2022.
Labour Minister Harry Bains announced the policy at the B.C. legislature Wednesday, Nov. 24, to replace a temporary program paid through WorkSafeBC earlier this year. Bains said B.C. is the first province in Canada to move ahead with permanent sick pay legislation.
“This is not optional,” Bains told reporters at the B.C. legislature Nov. 24. “This is the law starting in 2022.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry welcomed the change, noting that in earlier waves of the COVID-19, businesses were forced to close due to virus transmission. That problem has eased since the widespread vaccination of adults and teens, Henry said.
Bains said the five-day minimum is the middle ground from a consultation that had 60,000 submissions this year. He said 98 per cent of employers said they found no abuse of the temporary program, and it there was relatively little demand for it.
In May, the B.C. government announced a temporary program to fund up to three days of sick leave at full pay for workers who do not have employer sick pay. Employers are required to pay full wages, with reimbursement through WorkSafeBC up to a maximum of $200 per day. That program, set up to allow people to stay home on days when they have flu-like symptoms, are self-isolating or waiting for COVID-19 test results, expires at the end of 2021.
The B.C. Federation of Labour had estimated that half of B.C. workers don’t have sick benefits from their employers. After consulting with businesses, the ministry estimated it is 60 per cent, including self-employed people and contractors who do not have any employee benefits.
Bains said the government is working on options to assist “gig economy” and self-employed people, as well as others who are exempted from the Employment Standards Act.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk said his organization will continue to press for up to 10 days of paid sick leave.
“Despite some business lobbyists’ dire claims about costs to employers, study after study—and practical experience around the world — show the opposite: paid sick leave is good for the economy,” Cronk said in a statement released shortly after Bains’s announcement.