British Columbians facing the prospect of either powering through a work day while sick or else going without pay as they recover at home will soon be getting some relief.
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains introduced legislation Tuesday that will guarantee three days’ paid leave for workers dealing with COVID-19 via an amendment to the Employment Standards Act.
The leave can relate to workers dealing with COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolating or waiting for a test result.
The province will reimburse employers without an existing sick-leave plan up to $200 per day for each worker.
The employer will be required to pay the worker their full wages for the days they are sick.
By January 2022, the legislation will be extended to anyone who cannot work due to any illness or injury — not just COVID-19.
“COVID-19 does not end the fact that we have a gap in our employee employer relationship that puts people at risk vs. an opportunity to fix a problem that's been in existence for a long, long time,” Premier John Horgan told reporters.
But the extent to which support will be provided for the new permanent sick pay has not been determined.
The province said it will be pursuing consultations with the business community and labour organizations to hash out those details.
“Having paid sick leave is good for businesses, good for workers, good for communities and it will help our economy recover faster,” Bains said in the legislature.
He said during a media briefing that it is difficult to determine the exact costs of the program, not knowing the exact number of workers who will need to tap the program, but estimated it is likely to cost “a little over” $300 million.
Jurisdictions throughout the world have had to contend with rising COVID-19 caseloads at the same time many workers are left in financially precarious positions if they do not come into work while ill.
B.C.’s program aimed at COVID-19 is meant to bridge the gap between when the federal government’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) kicks in.
The CRSB provides a one-week payment of $500 that must be reapplied for if a Canadian remains ill.
That program is due to expire in September, while the provincial program, as it stands now, is due to expire at the end of December. After that, the new permanent provincial sick-pay program will launch.
Horgan expressed frustration during his briefing with reporters that the federal government had not introduced its own legislation in last month’s budget.
“We started working on the legislation last year and I can say we have been looking at how best to deliver a program like this when we saw the shortcomings of the federal program,” he said, adding a national program would be in the best interest of businesses and workers.
Horgan also took time to criticize the federal program for putting the onus on the employee to apply for support rather than requiring the employer to tap the government for reimbursements.
“I can’t hide my disappointment with the lack of a robust effort by the federal government but I do not want to be overly critical because they did step up,” he said.
WorkSafeBC will administer the program on behalf of the province.
“It is critical that the reimbursement of three paid sick days, at $200 per day, is paid back to employers quickly and they are not having to wait weeks for the reimbursement,” the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said in a statement.
Annie Dormuth, CFIB’s provincial affairs director, said her organization is concerned about the government’s plan to introduce a permanent sick-pay program in 2022.
“Small businesses are now seeing a glimmer of hope of when they can resume their operations without restrictions. The economic recovery of small businesses still remains uncertain and asking for their feedback on taking on additional costs right now is bad timing,” she said in a statement.
The B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFED) said it will be advocating on behalf of 10 days paid sick leave each year.
“Workers struggling with a COVID-19 illness face far greater than three days of lost pay, they face potential economic devastation,” BCFED president Laird Cronk said in a statement.
“Ensuring workers don’t have to make the untenable decision between staying home with symptoms or working sick to put food on the table and pay the rent is critical during this deadly race between variants and vaccines.”
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said her organization is pleased with the legislation.
“Businesses in the hardest-hit industries will finally get the support that they need. Paid sick leave is about reducing transmission and getting on the other side of this pandemic,” she said in a statement.