British Columbia will provide five sick days per year under its first paid sick leave program, slated to begin Jan. 1, 2022.
With the announcement, B.C. will become the first province in Canada to legislate paid time off for sick workers.
Everyone covered under the Employment Standards Act is eligible for the sick days, including part-time workers, but some, including those who are self-employed, are excluded.
“Beginning in the new year, workers will no longer lose pay for making the responsible choice of taking a sick day,” said Premier John Horgan.
“The pandemic has highlighted that when workers don’t have paid sick leave, it’s bad for them, it’s bad for their co-workers and it’s bad for their employers.”
The province consulted with more than 60,000 people on the new rules, gathering feedback on three different options — three, five or 10 days of paid sick leave.
“There were some who were saying 10 days-plus should be the minimum and then there were others saying don’t do anything,” said Labour Minister Harry Bains.
“So when we looked at how many actual days workers are actually utilizing when they are too sick to go to work, 87 per cent of them reported that they utilize five days or less, so that’s how we arrived at that, based on data and research.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, said she supported the decision because it will help prevent sick workers from being pressured to go to work where they could cause outbreaks of COVID-19 or other disease.
Some stakeholders like Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, lauded the move Wednesday.
“Not all workers have employers that offer paid sick leave, especially for essential or frontline workers, many of whom are in Surrey. That is why the Surrey Board of Trade supports the five-day option for B.C.,” she said.
While the BC Federation of Labour called the sick leave a “milestone” for public health, it said five days just isn’t enough.
“This is an important achievement for public health and safer workplaces,” said president Laird Cronk. “But we’re disappointed that it’s only half the 10-day standard that science supports and that is the overwhelming preference of British Columbians.”
Cronk said it falls “well short” of what workers, public health experts and economists have called for, and that the federation would continue to fight for 10 days of leave.
In May, the province gave all workers up to three days of paid sick leave to support those affected by COVID-19 until Dec. 31.
At the time, Bains said the number of entitlement days under a permanent program would be determined through consultation.
The government has said about half of B.C. employees do not have access to paid sick leave.