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Paid sick leave in B.C.: Your questions answered

·4 min read
B.C.'s paid sick leave applies to all workers, including part-time employees, who are covered by the Employment Standards Act.  (Shutterstock - image credit)
B.C.'s paid sick leave applies to all workers, including part-time employees, who are covered by the Employment Standards Act. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Starting Jan. 1, 2022, B.C. will give workers a minimum of five days of paid sick leave, the most of any province.

The provincial government says more than one million B.C. workers do not have access to paid sick leave at the moment.

But as the flurry of excitement — and criticism — around the announcement settles, many British Columbians have been left with questions about how exactly the legislation will work and who it will benefit.

CBC News set out to answer some of our readers' most pressing questions. Here is what we learned:

Who is eligible?

On the surface, the answer appears to be clean cut.

Simply put, the paid sick leave legislation applies to all workers, including part-time employees, who are covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA).

The act, however, does not cover federally regulated sectors, self-employed workers, and employees in professions and occupations excluded from the ESA.

What about independent contractors?

Here's where it gets messy.

More and more workers are embrace the gig economy, with popular apps like Uber, Skip the Dishes and Task Rabbit offering convenient and flexible employment options.

The majority of these apps refer to their employees as independent contractors. But that term can be unclear, according to experts.

"A lot of gig workers may be covered, but a lot might not be," said Deputy Minister of Labour Trevor Hughes.

"Just calling somebody a gig worker, or just saying that they're excluded from the employment standards system, doesn't make it so."

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

He says it all depends on the relationship between the worker and the employer, and the final decision lies with the Employment Standards Branch.

Hughes says if workers feel they should be considered employees and not independent contractors, they can file a complaint with the branch.

So, there is a possibility that those who work in the gig economy could be eligible for paid sick leave.

As the industry continues to grow, Hughes says many provinces and countries are having to adapt and update their laws.

What is a federally regulated sector and why is it excluded?

In Canada, certain industries with national operations require federal regulation. They include airlines, banks and Crown corporations like Canada Post.

Employees in these industries are covered by the Canada Labour Code instead of B.C.'s ESA.

Right now, federally regulated employees can access three days of paid leave per year.

Who will pay for the sick leave?

The financial burden of the paid sick leave falls entirely on the employer's shoulders, says Hughes.

This differs from the province's current COVID-19 sick leave program, which would reimburse employers up to $200 a day.

Hughes says the government is aware this will add costs to an employer's bottom line.

But he says the alternative, that an employee comes to work sick, potentially spreads a virus and the restaurant is forced to momentarily close, could cause an even greater financial strain for the employer.

How is the payment calculated?

These days, there are several different compensation schemes in the workplace. Some employees are paid hourly, others earn a salary. And what about commission?

Hughes says workers will be paid an average of what they earned in the past 30 days.

Can I use my sick leave to care for an ill loved one?

No.

Hughes says the leave only applies to personal illness and injury.

However, he adds there are already job protections that exist to support someone in a similar situation.

Will sick notes be required?

Here's where the legislation once again strays from black and white and provides a little flexibility.

The legislation says employers are entitled to reasonable proof that an employee is sick.

"But it's unreasonable to insist on a medical note in every circumstance," says Hughes.

Employers, he says, will need to work out a system that still provides room for flexibility and in-the-moment judgment.

Can I bank my paid sick leave? Does it carry over?

Unlike cellphone minutes, the paid leave does not carry over, Hughes says.

A worker is entitled to five paid sick days per year starting Jan. 1. Any unused time simply disappears.

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