The B.C. government on Tuesday introduced legislation that will bring in three days of paid sick leave related to COVID-19 such as having symptoms, self-isolating, and waiting for a test result.
Employers will be required to pay workers their full wages and the B.C. government will reimburse employers without an existing sick leave program up to $200 per day for each worker.
“The best way to protect workers, their families and co-workers during this pandemic is to have a paid sick leave program in place,” Premier John Horgan said.
“Our made-in-B.C. program will help cover the costs for hard-hit businesses so we can all get through this pandemic together and move to a strong economic recovery.”
The federal government launched a program last year to support workers required to miss work due to COVID-19, but critics have pointed out the plan has significant gaps.
Under the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, you can receive $500 ($450 after taxes withheld) for each one-week period you are eligible.
Someone is only eligible if they are unable to work at least 50 per cent of a scheduled work week because they are sick with COVID-19, have been advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19, or have an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk of getting the virus.
The problem for workers is that it doesn’t cover people showing symptoms but have not been asked to isolate or those with symptoms looking to get a test. It also does not help those who get sick in the latter half of their workweek.
There are also concerns the payments are often delayed.
The NDP government decided to move forward with a provincial plan after Ottawa decided not to fund the gaps when it released its budget on April 19.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has expressed support for the province filling the gaps and has said people going to work sick has contributed to the spread of the virus.
The B.C. legislation will also create a permanent paid sick leave for people who cannot work due to any illness or injury beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
WorkSafeBC will set up and, beginning next month, administer the employer reimbursement program.
An estimated 50 per cent of B.C. employees do not have access to paid sick leave. This means upwards of one million workers in B.C. will benefit from the new paid sick leave.
The BC Federation of Labour is expressing concerns with the COVID sick leave program covers only three days. The organization had been advocating the leave last up to 10 days.
“Workers struggling with a COVID-19 illness face far greater than three days of lost pay, they face potential economic devastation,” BCFed President Laird Cronk said.
“Ensuring workers don’t have to make the untenable decision between staying home with symptoms or working sick to put food on the table and pay the rent is critical during this deadly race between variants and vaccines.”
The BC Federation of Labour says they look forward to participating in the consultations around the permanent, paid sick leave program.
“Future generations will look back on the lack of permanent, paid sick leave like we look back in disbelief on driving without a seatbelt or workers not having paid vacation,” Cronk said.
“It never made sense for workers to go to work sick. Permanent, paid sick leave protects workers and their coworkers, strengthens public health and ensures economic resiliency at the same time.”
BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau says the short term fix is inadequate and ‘workers deserve a better plan’ from government.
The biggest concern is the length of the paid time off, just three days, while also falling short of fixing other gaps in the federal program
“Three days off is better than none, but it is far from adequate to provide people with the time to recover from COVID-19,” Furstenau said.
“This program falls short of fixing the gaps in the federal program, meaning many workers will continue to fall through the cracks. Half-measures will not solve the problem of workers having to choose between staying home when they’re sick and facing possible financial devastation.”