With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, federal and provincial sickness benefits have been put in the spotlight. This article reviews the availability of various sickness benefits for employees in British Columbia, including eligibility and the obligations of both employees and employers in relation to each benefit.
Please note that this article does not address an employer’s duty to accommodate employees with disabilities.
Many employers provide paid sick leave as a benefit to employees. The rules and regulations set out below do not override employers’ contractual obligations in this regard, and employees should consult with their employers about whether such benefits are available to them.
Sickness Benefits under the BC Employment Standards Act
Effective May 11, 2021, employees are entitled to take up to three (3) days of paid job-protected leave if the employee:
- is diagnosed with Covid-19;
- is required to isolate or quarantine in accordance with current health orders and guidelines;
- have been directed by their employer not to work due to a Covid-19 exposure;
- is providing care to certain eligible individuals (e.g. kids) due to a closure related to Covid-19; or
- is outside of BC and cannot return due to travel/border restrictions.
An employer is entitled to request proof from the employee that one of the above circumstances exists, and if so requested the employee must provide proof as soon as practicable. However, an employer is not entitled to request proof in the form of a doctor’s note.
If the employer does not have an existing paid sick leave program, the employer can apply to the provincial government to be reimbursed for the cost of providing the leave, to a maximum of $200 per day. WorkSafeBC will be administering the reimbursement payments, and these payments will not impact an employer’s premiums or accident fund. Further details on the reimbursement program are set to be announced in June 2021.
This benefit will be available until December 31, 2021.
B) Covid-19 Vaccination
An employee is entitled to three (3) hours of paid leave to obtain a Covid-19 vaccine, regardless of how long they have worked for their current employer.
This provision is retroactive to April 19, 2021 and will remain in place until no longer necessary.
C) General Illness
BC employment standards legislation currently allows employees to take three days of unpaid, job-protected leave, regardless of the nature of the illness.
Only employees who have worked for 90 or more calendar days for their current employer are eligible for unpaid sick leave.
The BC provincial government announced on May 11, 2021 that the Province will be introducing permanent paid job-protected leave effective January 1, 2022. This leave will be accessible to an employee who is unable to work due to any illness or injury. It has not yet been determined how many days of paid leave an employee will be offered through this program.
Sickness Benefits under the Canada Labour Code
Federally regulated employees are entitled to take up to five days of job-protected leave to treat an illness or carry out responsibilities related to the health or care of any of their family members. Provided the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment with the employer, the employee is entitled to take the first three days of leave with pay.
An employer may request in writing that the employee provide documentation to support the reasons for taking leave under the Code, and the employee is obligated to provide documentation if it is reasonably practicable for them to obtain and provide it.
Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit
The Federal Government introduced a temporary benefit for employees who are unable to work due for reasons related to Covid-19. If eligible, an employee can receive $450 (after tax) per week, to a maximum of four weeks.
In order to qualify for CRSB, an employee must meet all of the following conditions for each week claimed:
- Be at least 15 years old;
- Reside in Canada;
- Be physically present in Canada;
- Have a valid Social Insurance Number;
- Have earned at least $,5000 in 2019, 2020, or in the 12 months prior to the date on which the employee applies for the benefit;
- is unable to work at least 50% of their scheduled work week because they are self-isolating for one of the following reasons:
- The employee has or may have Covid-19;
- The employee is advised to self-isolate by their employer, a medical practicioner, their public health authority, or the government; or
- The employee has an underlying health condition which puts them at greater risk of contracting Covid-19.
- was not self-isolating or in quarantine due to international travel;
- is not receiving paid leave from their employer for the same period; and
- did not apply for or receive any of the following for the same period:
- Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB)
- Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB)
- Employment Insurance (EI); or
- Short Term Disability Benefits.
Applications for the CRSB are available directly through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). An employee may apply for the CRSB for up to four one-week periods between September 27, 2020 and September 25, 2021. If applying for more than one week, separate applications for each one-week period are required.
The CRA has indicated that payments of the CRSB should be delivered in 3-5 business days via direct deposit, or 10-12 business days if by mail. However, there may be delays in the process, particularly for those individuals who have not filed their most recent tax returns.
Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits
The EI Sickness Benefits program can provide an employee with up to 55% of their insurable earnings to a maximum of $595 per week, for up to 15 weeks. The amount of the benefit depends on the employee’s insurable earnings before taxes in the past 52 weeks or since the start of their last EI claim, whichever is shorter.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, temporary changes have been made to the EI sickness benefits program. Until September 25, 2021, in order to be eligible for these benefits an employee must:
- Have accumulated 120 insured hours of work in the 52 weeks before the start of claim or since the start of their last claim;
- Have had their regular weekly earnings decreased by more than 40% for at least one week, although this waiting period may be waived; and
- Be unable to work for medical reasons.
Employees are not currently required to get a medical certificate in order to access these benefits.