BC's paid sick leave: CEO reveals 'broad-stroke' policy impact on employers

Why program presents a new challenge to small businesses and their HR departments

BC's paid sick leave: CEO reveals 'broad-stroke' policy impact on employers

Earlier this month, British Columbia became the first province to introduce five days of permanent paid sick leave. As of January 1, 2022, businesses will be legally required to provide the days to their employees – including small businesses province-wide, ones that have been hard hit by the pandemic. And while the move is intended to help employees manage their mental and physical wellbeing, it could have a dramatic and costly impact on employers in the region, with wide-reaching implications for HR teams.

HRD spoke to Jeff Harris, CEO & founder of IMPACT Recruitment, who revealed how this bill will impact businesses moving forward – and explained how employers are shouldering the hassle and the costs.  

“In a market that is extremely competitive to attract and retain workers, there are few companies in which this broad-stroke policy approach will make much difference,” he told HRD. “Most companies competing for workers already have paid sick day or personal day programs equal to or exceeding five days per year. If the government wished to improve the program to ensure all companies are not negatively affected, the government would be paying for the sick days directly, instead of shifting the burden completely upon employers.”

The program presents a new challenge to small businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors, who continue to face labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and a rise in food prices. As the pandemic continues, and restrictions remain in place, smaller businesses are already feeling the pressure. With the added stress of the ongoing Great Resignation, it’s a worrying outlook for many employers heading into 2022.

Read more: Ontario issues guidance on proof of vaccination status for organizations

“At present, small businesses and those in the hospitality sectors are facing a massive labour shortage, paired with excess upward pressure on wage rates, and this mandate will exacerbate these challenges with additional financial burdens,” added Harris. “Where shift-work represents the majority, and where workers often work for multiple employers, it will be difficult to enforce and to ensure fairness for employers without specific tactical rules - such as pro-rated sick days based upon hours worked per annum. The program includes part-time and even casual employees, so there will certainly be difficulties in administering and monitoring the broad policy.”

The burden of policing this policy falls to HR – meaning leaders need to get their employment contracts in place and ensure they’re fully compliant going into the New Year. Speaking to HRD earlier this month, Michelle McKinnon, employment lawyer at BC-based McMillan, revealed how new bill could affect internal HR policies.

“Throughout the pandemic, businesses that had pre-existing sick leave programs for employees saw fewer workplace transmissions and, as a result, were not as severely impacted,” she revealed. “This highlighted the fact that a lack of paid sick leave forced employees to choose between staying home to recover from an illness and being paid, with the impact being greater on lower income employees. The BC government stated that paid sick leave will enable employees to stay home when ill and will help prevent the transmission of diseases. We encourage employers to review their sick leave policies before the new year.”

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