Paid COVID-19 Leave Is Spreading Like Wildfire: Compliance Alert
Ensuring employees can afford to get vaccinated and stay home when they’re sick.
When the pandemic began, provinces enacted legislation giving employees unpaid leave for time missed due to COVID-19. The idea was to ensure that getting sick, slammed into self-isolation or shut in to care for a homebound child didn’t cost employees their jobs. A year later, the dynamics have changed. The current order of the day is to ensure that employees get the vaccine and stay home when they’re sick. The problem is that employees must sacrifice vacation days or paid work hours to obey these imperatives. And that’s a luxury many employees simply can’t afford, especially in these tough economic times.
As a result, governments have shifted tactics by adopting paid leave so employees can get vaccinated during work hours without losing pay. And now some provinces are upping the ante by providing full days of paid sick leave covering not just vaccination but other COVID-related missed time. The good news for financially strapped employers is that paid sick days are being publicly subsidized. Here’s a rundown to help you keep track of the situation no matter what part of Canada you’re in.
Paid Vaccination Leave Provinces (AB, BC, MB, SK)
It began in mid-April when Saskatchewan adopted new OHS regulations temporarily granting employees up to 3 hours leave at regular pay to receive the COVID vaccine. Since then, 3 other provinces have adopted paid vaccination leave—Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba. Vaccination leave requirements are pretty similar:
- In contrast to most forms of employment standards leave, all employees qualify for vaccination leave no matter how long they’ve been employed;
- Employees get the full 3 hours for each dose of the vaccine, meaning they actually get 6 hours; and
- Employers can ask employees to provide evidence of eligibility but can’t require them to produce medical note or immunization record.
Paid Sick Leave Provinces (BC, ON)
Although it’s a step in the right direction, paid vaccination leave doesn’t address the “stay-home-when-you’re-sick” problem. So, BC and Ontario have taken things a step further by requiring employers to give employees 3 full days of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay covering not just vaccination but the physical reaction, as well as other COVID-related lost time. But unlike vaccination leave, employers aren’t required to foot the bill for paid sick leave and can apply to the government for reimbursement up to $600 per employee ($200 per day).
As with vaccination leave, eligibility isn’t based on length of employment. The one big condition: Employees don’t get paid COVID sick leave if they already have sick leave coverage through their employer or insurance. Thus, for example, employees with 2 days’ paid sick leave get only one day of COVID-19 paid sick leave.
Paid COVID sick leave is temporary. However, in BC, it morphs into permanent sick leave covering any illness, starting January 1, 2022. At that point, though, employees will need at least 90 days of consecutive employment to qualify.
Paid Sick Leave Subsidies Provinces (MB, NS, PEI)
Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are also providing for paid COVID sick leave but in a different way. Rather than changing their employment standards laws, these provinces have created special government funding programs offering subsidies to employers who want to offer paid leave to their employees. The subsidy rates and coverage rules are similar to those in BC and Ontario, including the exclusion of employees that already have paid sick leave coverage. The main difference is that employers aren’t required to participate.
In addition, in NS and PEI, paid sick leave is available only to employees that miss less than 50% of scheduled work time in a one-week period due to COVID. Recourse for employees who miss more time is to seek federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefits.
Other than in BC, the new forms of paid COVID leave are just temporary. If and when this horrible pandemic finally ends, employees will find themselves once more in the spot of not being able to afford to stay home when they’re sick. Only this time, it won’t be coronavirus but flu or some other infectious illness. Paid sick leave is currently required under the employment standards laws of only one jurisdiction: PEI, where employees get one paid day per year, but only if they have at least 5 years of continuous employment. On January 1, 2022, BC will become the second to provide for permanent paid sick leave. And Saskatchewan, which started the current run of COVID paid leave rights, recently tabled legislation that would make paid sick leave a permanent part of its employment standards laws. See Know The Laws to find out the details of what’s going on in each province.