The vaccine rollout is quickly expanding in BC as we enter Phase 3 of the province’s immunization plan. Similar to other provinces across Canada, in an effort to promote immunization, the BC provincial government has amended the BC Employment Standards Regulation (the Regulations) to include time off for workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
What does “vaccination” leave include?
BC employment standards legislation now provides for job-protected, unpaid leave for all part-time and full-time workers to (1) be vaccinated against COVID-19; or (2) assist a dependant who is being vaccinated against COVID-19. A dependent may include a person who is a member of the employee’s immediate family or is considered by the employee to be like a close relative, is in need of care, and is under the day-to-day care and control of the employee.
There is no prescribed amount of time in which an employee is entitled to take off from work for vaccination leave. Accordingly, employees are entitled to take the amount of time off work that is necessary to be vaccinated or assist a dependent to be vaccinated.
While the new vaccine leave is currently unpaid, the provincial government is exploring options to provide workers with paid vaccination leave and is in the process of consulting with the BC business community and labour organizations who have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for further updates on the potential implementation of paid vaccination leave.
Additional expansions to COVID-19-related leave
With case numbers in BC on the rise due to variants, the provincial government has also expanded the protections afforded by statutory COVID-19-related leave to more individuals. The recent amendments to the Regulations expand COVID-19-related leave to include the following circumstances:
- where an employee is deemed more susceptible to COVID-19 per a medical opinion and is receiving (or will receive) the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit; and
- where an employee is providing care to an “eligible person,” which is expanded beyond a child or dependent adult to also include:
- the employee’s immediate family;
- individuals referred to in s. 2 (a) or (b) of the Family Member Regulation; or
- an individual who requires care and who considers the employee to be, or whom the employee considers to be, like a close relative (whether or not related to an employee by blood, adoption, marriage or common law partnership).
Key takeaways for employers
- Ensure that any vaccination policies are updated to allow employees to take time off to get vaccinated during work hours. While employers can encourage employees to get vaccinated on their days off, if employees have a vaccination appointment scheduled during work hours, they are entitled to take the time off without fear of losing their job.
- Remember that statutory leaves are not discretionary – if an employee qualifies for and requests COVID-19-related leave, then the employer must grant it.
- Keep a written record of all absences, including the length and the reason for the absence, for your records.
- Remember that an employer may request reasonably sufficient proof that the employee is entitled to the leave. For vaccinations, this may include proof of an appointment. However, for COVID-19-related leave, an employer must not request that employees provide a doctor’s note. To clarify, employees can provide a doctor’s note if they choose to do so, but they are not required to do so, and the employer cannot request one.