Paid sick leave is coming to BC on January 1, 2022

November 29, 2021 | Matthew E. Wray

Beginning on January 1, 2022, workers in BC will be automatically entitled to a minimum of five paid sick days each calendar year. With this move, BC becomes the first province in Canada to legislate this level of paid time off for workers who become ill. All employees, whether unionized or not, who are covered by the Employment Standards Act will be eligible for this new, guaranteed, workplace protection.

Avoidance of issues which plagued many workplaces as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was the primary motive behind the introduction of a guarantee for paid sick days; in particular, to dissuade sick employees from going to work.

More than one million workers in BC do not currently have access to paid sick-leave, most of whom are women or racialized workers in low-wage jobs. The choice between going to work sick, or staying home and not receiving pay, is a real dilemma for many employees in BC.

Prior to developing this new legislative provision, the BC government conducted a public engagement process, in which more than 60,000 people participated. This group included representatives from both workers and employers, and sought to ascertain what employees were currently entitled to in terms of sick pay. The Government also sought feedback on whether three, five or ten days of paid sick leave would be appropriate. The Government determined through its research that workplaces with paid sick leave experience an average of zero to five days of sick leave, per eligible employee, each year.

When announcing the new paid sick leave, Harry Bains, Minister of Labour remarked: “[l]ower-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.” In developing this new legislation, the Government looked to other jurisdictions that have mandated paid sick leave, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and several E.U. countries. In looking at these countries’ experiences, cost increases for most businesses were less than expected and they also saw increased productivity, retention of trained staff, reduced risks of injury, improved morale and increased labour-force participation.

The specifics of the new paid sick leave provisions have not yet been announced. To stay informed on how these provisions might impact your workplace, please reach out to a member of Miller Thomson’s labour and employment group.

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