BC’s permanent sick leave program starts this week, after nearly two years of COVID-19 drew attention to the lack of supports for workers.
As of Saturday, January 1, all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act will be entitled to five days of employer-paid sick leave.
“Many of the people who lack paid sick leave are the same workers we depended on most during the pandemic,” said Labour Minister Harry Bains in a news release from November 24, when the program was announced. “Lower-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.”
He made the announcement alongside Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, adding that about half of the BC workforce currently does not have access to paid sick time.
“Workers without coverage are usually the most vulnerable in our society. They’re in low-paying jobs and often women and racialized people,” Bains said. “These are the people who can least afford to stay home and lose wages when sick.”
Henry said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it starkly apparent how important it is for workers to be able to stay home without losing a days’ wages. During a two-month period at the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 outbreaks led to 200 workplaces being shut down in the Fraser health region alone.
“This new approach will protect workers everywhere by helping break chains of transmission we know can happen when people are together,” she said.
— Harry Bains (@HarryBainsSN) December 27, 2021
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Wednesday’s announcement follows COVID-19-specific sick time introduced in May, which allows employees showing symptoms, self-isolating, or waiting for a test result to take up to three days of paid time off. That program is set to expire on December 31.
During government analysis of that program, Bains reported that 98% of employers surveyed reported no abuse of the program.
The newly mandated sick days are not available to those who are self-employed or outside of the Employment Standards Act, such as Uber and Lyft drivers.