In mid-May, the B.C. government announced workers affected by COVID-19 will be able to receive three days of paid leave if they have symptoms of the virus, are in isolation or are waiting for a test result.
The program requires employers to pay full- and part-time workers their full wages. The provincial government will reimburse employers without a sick leave program up to $200 per day for each worker.
The application form for employers to receive reimbursement will be available on WorkSafeBC’s online services portal on June 15.
Reimbursement is available for sick leave taken from May 20 until the program ends on December 31.
Employers must be registered for WorkSafeBC insurance coverage and signed up for WorkSafeBC’s employer online services in order to access the reimbursement application.
The COVID-19 sick leave program is not part of the workers’ compensation system and will not impact WorkSafeBC’s employer premiums or its accident fund.
For more information, go to https://www.worksafebc.com/en/covid-19/covid-19-paid-sick-leave-reimbursement-program
The employee sick leave legislation was enabled by amendments to the Province’s Employment Standards Act.
The program is intended to bridge the gap for workers between when they first feel sick and when they can access the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which provides four weeks of support to people who miss work due to the pandemic.
The provincial legislation will also create a permanent paid sick leave for workers who cannot work due to any illness or injury beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
The government said details of the program will be determined after extensive stakeholder consultations.
Reaction to the sick leave and reimbursement programs has been largely positive, with a few criticisms of scope and scale.
“Anything that protects our workers is good,” said Chris Atchison, president of the BC Construction Association. “However, reimbursement of $200 a day won’t go all the way to covering the cost to employers in the construction industry, which has high wages.
“Furthermore, construction has very robust COVID-19 safety protocols and any worker who gets sick goes into quarantine for 14 days, not three days.”
Speaking of the reimbursement program, Dave Baspaly, president of the Council of Construction Associations, said COCA supports any government intervention or financial support for employers.
“But $200 barely scratches the surface and employers must top up that amount,” he said. “We need to find out the details of the reimbursement program. For example, we don’t know yet if the application process for reimbursement will be smooth or highly bureaucratic or how much time it will take.”
Mike McKenna, executive director of the BC Construction Safety Alliance, said the three-day sick leave program is good for both workers and employers.
“If a worker gets sick, he or she should go home and recover,” said McKenna. “And it’s good that construction employers will be partially reimbursed for workers’ wages while they’re off the job. At the same time, every effort should be made to getting employers and employees vaccinated.”
Darin Hughes, president of Scott Construction Group, said the program is a positive step because construction needs to protect its workers.
“Other programs are coming in across the country and B.C. needs to be in step with the other provinces,” said Hughes. “On the other hand, it would have been better had the program come in earlier. Now it’s less needed than it used to be. Positive COVID-19 tests are less frequent than they were even as recently as a few months ago.”
BC Building Trades interim executive director Brynn Bourke said the organization has been monitoring the effect of COVID-19 in the construction industry throughout the pandemic.
“We know one of the most important factors in preventing spread is for workers to stay home if they are sick, and so the lack of sick pay in our industry has been a longstanding concern,” said Bourke. “The establishment of paid sick leave is an important first step and we support provisions that would make it permanent.”
Laird Cronk, president of the BC Federation of Labour (BCFED), said the sick leave program is needed now because the virus and its variants are still with us.
“Construction work can’t be done at home, it needs to be done onsite, which is how the virus is spread, through human contact,” said Cronk.
He is also an enthusiastic supporter of permanent paid sick leave.
“As the B.C. government consults on the details for permanent paid sick-leave provisions, the BCFED will advocate to ensure all workers have access of up to 10 days of paid sick leave per year, as a basic public health protection and employment right for all,” Cronk said.