Paid sick leave for employees is now in effect under the ESA BC

As announced last year, as of January 1st, 2022, provincially regulated employers in BC must now provide at least 5 paid days per year to employees (plus 3 unpaid days) for the purpose of illness or injury. Under the Employment Standards Act, the leave is called Illness or Injury Leave and employees are eligible once they’ve worked with you for at least 90 days.

Other provisions of this leave are as follows:

  • The leave applies to full-time, part-time, temporary, and casual employees who are either salaried or paid hourly.
  • How much you pay employees will vary according to how much they’ve worked in the 30-day period preceding the sick day. An average days’ pay is determined by dividing the total wages (not including overtime) earned in that 30-day period by the number of days worked in that same period (including vacation and sick days).  
  • The leave does not need to be taken consecutively. It could be used all at once, if necessary, or a day here and there, as needed. Employers can also choose to allow it in half-day (or less) allotments.
  • The leave is/must be based on the employee’s employment year (as opposed to calendar year). This means that for 2022, employees will be granted 5 days up to the end of their usual employment year, and then 5 days from the start of their anniversary date through the end of the next employment year. For example, if an employee started on July 1st, 2021, for this year, they will be entitled to take 5 days from January 1st through June 30th. They will then be entitled to take 5 days from July 1st, 2022 through June 30th, 2023.
  • While employers can choose to allow the days to be rolled over, the legislation doesn’t require that sick days be carried over to future years (i.e., they can be forfeited at the end of the year, if not used).
  • There is no requirement to pay out unused sick days.
  • Employers can request “reasonably sufficient proof of illness” based upon the length of the leave, patterns of absences, ability to provide proof, and cost associated. For example, while it’s not typically reasonable to ask for a doctor’s note for a day or two off here and there, a pattern of always taking sick days on Mondays may necessitate a note.

As for any other provision under the Employment Standards Act, this regulation sets out the minimum required standards. Employers may choose to go over and above and provide more generous leave allowances and terms, if they wish. If you choose to do so, as with all people-related practices, we recommend it aligns with your culture and overall policies. While the standard for provincially regulated private industry employers is to provide 5 paid sick days (typically more in the not-for-profit space), if providing more aligns with overall wellness, balance, and diversity initiatives (for example), it may make sense to do so. That said, providing additional days that may be more flexibly used (e.g., paid personal days for family/care responsibilities) may be a better fit for your organization.

Unlike accrued but unused vacation days, there is no requirement to pay out unused sick days if an employee leaves, nor is this an approach the vast majority of organizations take. In fact, we recommend against doing so, as it can prevent employees from taking needed time, if they know they’re planning to leave your organization.

Finally, if you already provide 5 or more paid sick days to all employees, regardless of whether they are hourly, salaried, full-time, part-time, casual, or temporary, there’s no need to amend your existing policy or practices. An exception might be related to the pro-rating of days. It’s common for employers to pro-rate sick days for part-time employees who work less than 5 days per week. For example, if a part-time employee works three 8-hour days per week, they might only receive 3 paid sick days per year, rather than 5. Under the new provisions, this would need to be extended to 5 days (at an average day’s pay).

Jouta’s HR consulting team can help update your leave practices and employee handbooks in light of this new provision.