Proposed law sets the stage for three days paid COVID-related sick leave in B.C.

Workers who are sick with COVID-19 or need to self-isolate while awaiting test results will get three days paid sick leave covered by the B.C. government, Premier John Horgan and Labour Minister Harry Bains announced Tuesday morning.

Horgan said during a news conference Tuesday that in the absence of a comprehensive federal paid sick leave program, the province is stepping in to “fill that gap.”

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“No one should have to make that difficult choice between staying home and going to work sick, because they had an economic imperative to do so,” Horgan said.

However, Horgan said he “firmly maintains” that a national program is in the best interests of workers and businesses and he will continue to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act will require employers to pay the worker’s regular wages for up to three days, to a maximum of $200 per day. WorkSafeBC will then reimburse employers.

The rules would apply to full-time and part-time workers. Any employer that does not currently have paid sick leave benefits, such as small and medium businesses, will be eligible for reimbursement.

When a worker requests sick leave, their employer could ask for “reasonably sufficient proof,” although no doctor’s note is required.

The COVID-related sick-leave benefits will expire on Dec. 31, 2021, after which B.C. will roll out a permanent paid sickness and personal injury leave program.

However, the number of days covered by the permanent program has not yet been decided. Bains said that will be determined after consultation with employers, workers and Indigenous partners over the coming months.

“Having paid sick leave is good for businesses, good for workers, good for our communities, and it will help our economy recover faster,” Bains said.

The three-day program is similar to one announced last month by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, which was slammed by critics as inadequate, since it only covers COVID-related illness.

The current federal program, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, has been criticized by labour groups, who say the $500-a-week benefit, or $450 after taxes, for anyone sick with COVID-19 is an inadequate measure that fails to replace a worker’s full wages.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week she’s supportive of a paid sick leave program to prevent people from going into work when sick and inadvertently spreading COVID-19.

Fraser Health has closed at least 60 businesses since April 17 due to COVID-19 transmission. An April 9 order allowed health authorities to direct WorkSafeBC inspectors to shut down non-essential businesses for at least 10 days if there has been COVID-19 transmission at the workplace.

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