In March, BC’s provincial government announced legislative changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in order to support workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the long term.


If you’re a small business owner and employ staff, then you should familiarize yourself with the recent changes and amend your policies as needed. Ensure that you communicate any changes with your employees in order to protect your business and keep things running smoothly. 


The amendments to the ESA created two new unpaid statutory leaves and changes to temporary layoffs.


1. COVID-19 Related Absence is for:

  • Employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and acting on the recommendations from medical professionals. 
  • Employees in quarantine or self-isolation following the BC government’s Self-Isolation Act which requires a person to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving back from international travel. 
  • Employees outside of the province, unable to return to work due to travel bans or restrictions (an employee was on vacation and a lockdown was enforced). 
  • Where an employer has requested an employee not attend work due to transmission concerns. 
  • Employees who are providing care dependants due to closures of schools, daycares and other care facilities.


Employers are prohibited from requesting COVID-19 related medical notes so as to not overwhelm the healthcare system. However, other forms of proof may be requested. 


The length of the COVID-19 protected leave will be in effect for as long as the circumstances surrounding the reasons for absence exist. 


What if an employee was previously terminated for these reasons?

Please note that these changes are retroactive to January 27th, 2020. So, if an employee was terminated for any of the above reasons, they are entitled to be reinstated to their position as their period of absence is deemed as statutory leave. 


However, this does not prevent the employer from laying off employees for business-related reasons pertaining to loss of business due to COVID-19. 

2. Updates made to illness or injury leave in BC

This change is not COVID-19 related and is a permanent change to the ESA. It was made to bring BC in better alignment with the rest of Canada. 


Employees are now entitled to three days of unpaid statutory leave per year in the case they are suffering from a personal illness or injury. As an employer, you’re entitled to request proof of their personal injury or illness. 

Extensions to the BC provincial temporary layoffs policy

Earlier in May the BC government also announced an extension of their temporary layoff rules to coordinate with the federal government’s emergency aid response. 


The ESA will now allow employers to extend temporary layoffs to up to 16 weeks, allowing employees to take advantage of CERB for up to 16 weeks. During a temporary layoff, people are still considered employed and will not lose out on any of their benefits, such as vacation or other leave. 

Previously, if an employee was laid off for a period of 13 weeks out of 20, they were considered permanently laid off and would be entitled severance pay. 

Key takeaways for employers

  • The COVID-19 job protection is tied to the pandemic and will be repealed when it is no longer needed.
  • To qualify for the Illness/Injury leave, you must have been employed for at least 90 days prior to your leave.
  • You can temporarily lay off staff for up to 16 weeks with government aid.

If you have any questions with regards to this topic, or other employment-related questions, and would like the assistance of a small business lawyer, please do not hesitate to contact us.