BC's employee sick leave: How many days are actually paid?

BC-based industry expert explains the thinking and catalyst behind the new bill

BC's employee sick leave: How many days are actually paid?

Last year, British Columbia became the very first province to implement a nationwide paid sick leave programme. The move was lauded by employees and HR leaders as a positive step towards better personal wellbeing – however, it also raised concerns from smaller, family run businesses that were unsure how they’d manage the labour drought.

Where did the bill come from?

HRD caught up with Michelle McKinnon, BC-based employment lawyer, who talked us through the thinking behind the new legislation and revealed just how many sick leave days are up for grabs.

“There’s no doubt that the catalyst for the paid sick leave programme we have now was the COVID-19 pandemic,” McKinnon told HRD. “And the lessons we learned during the pandemic. When the government announced the paid sick leave plan in BC they specifically said that COVID-19 highlighted the need for paid sick leave. The absence of paid sick leave in BC made it difficult for employees to choose between staying at home and recovering or being paid. The new paid sick leave programme now enables employees to say, ‘I’m sick, I need to stay at home and recover. I’m not coming into work ill just because I need my wages.’

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“The BC government specifically announced that the pandemic really impacted lower income workers the most – people that we relied on the most during the pandemic that needed to continue working. When we were in the height of the pandemic this was the worst possible thing – we needed people to stay at home to reduce transmissions. This is really where the thinking behind the bill came in.”

How much sick leave is paid?

So, just how much sick leave can employees apply for? And is it all paid? Well, according to McKinnon, there’s still some finer points of law to be worked out – and it may be that employees are forced to take unpaid before they can apply for paid leave.

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“Effective from this year, employees are eligible for five days of paid sick leave – in addition to three days of unpaid sick leave they already have,” she told HRD. “It’s not clear from the act, as of yet, whether the employees would need to take the three days unpaid before they could opt for the paid leave. At this point we’re waiting for the amendments to come into effect. I’m sure that employers can address the issue of paid before unpaid in their individual sick leave policies.”

To hear HRD and McKinnon’s full interview on BC’s paid sick leave policy, tune into our video interview here.

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