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BC Employment Standards Act: A Quick Guide for Employers

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British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) sets down the minimum standards for conditions of employment in the province. These include hours of work, minimum wages, leaves of absence, termination notice and pay.

Employers have to abide by the minimum standards set down in the ESA. If you are a provincially regulated business, these minimum standards will apply to your workplace even if you don’t include them in your job contracts. Employers are required to provide their workforce with information about their rights under the ESA.

But the BC Employment Standards are only a basic minimum. Employers are free to offer more benefits and rights to employees if they’d like to.

Who does the BC Employment Standards Act apply to?

The BC Employment Standards Act applies to all employees within provincial jurisdiction irrespective of whether they are casual, probationary, temporary, or full-time or part-time workers. But the person should meet the definition of employee as laid down in the Act.

Who is excluded from the BC Employment Standards Act?

Federally regulated employees are outside the jurisdiction of the ESA. Independent contractors in BC, too, are not covered by the Employment Standards Act. Professionals that are regulated by other provincial regulations, such as lawyers, doctors, and architects, are also excluded from the Act.

Some sections of the Act do not apply to certain occupations, such as oil and gas workers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, and farm workers, among others. Regulations specific to these industries apply to such occupations.

Students, sitters, some newspaper carriers, and persons in government-sponsored work programs, may also be excluded under some conditions.

What are some major areas of employment covered under BC Employment Standards?

Some important areas covered by the BC Employment Standards Act include:

Hours of work

The standard working time in British Columbia is 8 hours a day and 40 hours per week. If an employee is asked to work more than 8 hours in a day, or more than 40 hours in a week, the employer must pay them overtime pay. Overtime pay is 1.5 times more than an employee’s regular hourly pay.

Employers can’t pay employees for less than 2 hours of work if an employee has reported to work. This applies even if the working time is less than 2 hours.

Rest periods

All employees are entitled to one 32-hour long break in a work week. Employers are required to give their workers a 30-minute break if they have worked for 5 hours, but they are not required to pay staff for the break time.

Minimum wages

Employers must pay their workers at least the minimum wage set down in the BC Employment Standards Act. The employer is free to pay the employee more than the minimum wage, but they cannot pay their staff less than the minimum wage. The minimum wage requirement applies to all employees irrespective of whether they are paid by the hour or paid a salary or commission.

The current general minimum wage in BC is $15.20 an hour. The minimum wage may vary according to job type. Jobs such as live-in camp leaders, live-in home support workers and resident caretakers have different minimum wage requirements.

Vacation time and pay

Most employees are entitled to two weeks of vacation time after 12 consecutive months of employment. The annual vacation entitlement increases to three weeks after five consecutive years of employment.

Employees must be paid at least 4% or 6% of their total wages as vacation pay, depending on their years of service with the employer.

Paydays

Employers must pay workers at least twice a month and within 8 days of the end of the pay period. Employees must also receive a written pay statement that provides details of deductions, benefits, and wage calculation.

Statutory Holidays in BC

British Columbia has 10 statutory holidays.

  • New Year’s Day
  • Family Day
  • Good Friday
  • Victoria Day
  • Canada Day
  • BC Day
  • Labour Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Remembrance Day
  • Christmas Day

Companies that operate nationally should note that Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Boxing Day are not statutory holidays in BC.

Most employees are generally entitled to take all statutory holidays off work and be paid statutory holiday pay.

To qualify for statutory holiday pay, employees must have worked for an employer for 30 calendar days and must have worked or earned wages on 15 of the 30 days before the statutory holiday.

Leaves of Absence

Employees in British Columbia are allowed to take different types of job-protected leaves if they meet the eligibility criteria. Most leaves are unpaid.

The BC Employment Standards Act has been temporarily amended to include leaves of absence for COVID-19 related reasons. These include:

COVID-19 – Paid vaccination leave

This leave allows staff to take up to 3 hours of paid leave to be vaccinated against COVID-19. All employees are entitled to this leave irrespective of how long they have been employed. This paid leave is retroactive to April 19, 2021.

COVID-19 – Paid sick leave

All employees are eligible for this leave no matter how long they have been employed. This leave allows for 3 days of paid leave between May 20, 2021, and December 31, 2021, if an employee is unable to work due to a COVID-19 related reason such as being sick with COVID-19, awaiting COVID-19 test result, being in quarantine or being told to stay home by their employer due to risk of COVID-19 exposure.

COVID-19 – Unpaid leave

This unpaid, job-protected leave is available to employees unable to work due to the following reasons:

  • They have been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • They are helping a dependent get vaccinated against COVID-19
  • They are in isolation or quarantine and are acting in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control or guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada
  • They have been asked by their employer to not come into work due to concern about their exposure to others
  • They have caregiving responsibilities due to COVID-19 related reasons, such as closure of a school, daycare, or similar facility.
  • They are outside of BC and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions
  • They are more vulnerable to COVID-19 in the opinion of a medical professional because of an underlying health condition, ongoing treatment or other illness and are receiving Canada Recovery Sickness Benefits for the leave

This leave will be removed from the Employment Standards Act once it is no longer needed.

Please note that employers may ask for reasonable proof to ensure an employee is entitled to a COVID-19 related leave. They can ask for medical notes for accommodation purposes. Other examples of proof include proof of travel and a copy of an order to isolate.

Leave respecting domestic or sexual violence

Under the BC Employment Standards Act, employees affected by domestic or sexual violence can take up to five days of paid leave and five more days of unpaid leave every calendar year. They can also avail up to 15 more weeks of unpaid leave if they need it. This leave can also be taken if the employee’s child or dependent is affected by this kind of violence.

Personal illness or injury leave

Beginning January 1, 2022, employees covered by the BC Employment Standards Act will be entitled to a minimum of five paid sick leave days per year if they need to stay home due to an illness or injury. This will be in addition to the existing provision under section 49.1 of the Act that provides eligible employees up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave each year under the ESA.

Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 90 days are eligible for both the leaves. Employers may ask for reasonable proof to confirm that their employee is entitled to the leaves.

Leaves related to having a child

When they have or adopt a child, employees in BC are entitled to unpaid time off work. To utilize these leaves, employees are required to submit a written request to their employer at least four weeks before commencing either leave.

Income assistance is available for maternity and parental leave through the Employment Insurance (EI) Program.

Maternity leave (or pregnancy leave)

Employees who are pregnant can take up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave. The employer may request a note from a doctor or nurse practitioner that mentions the expected birth date, the actual birth date, or any other reasons for the leave.

The leave must begin on or before the date the baby is born. But it can’t start earlier than 13 weeks before the expected birth date. The leave continues for at least six weeks after the birth. If an employee wishes to return to work sooner, a certificate from a doctor or nurse practitioner will have to be submitted to the employer. The leave can be extended for another six weeks if the employee can’t return to work due to reasons related to childbirth.

Termination of a pregnancy

Employees are allowed to take up to six consecutive weeks of leave starting on the date a pregnancy ends. An employer may ask for a doctor’s note stating the date the pregnancy ended. If the employee is not able to return to work due to reasons related to the termination of pregnancy, they can extend the leave for six weeks.

Parental leave

All employees are entitled to up to 62 weeks of unpaid parental leave. The leave can be taken at any time within 78 weeks of a baby being born or a child being placed. It may be extended by up to five weeks if the child needs more care due to a physical, psychological, or emotional condition.

When extension is requested, an employer can ask for proof such as a certificate from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Pregnant employees can take both maternity leave (17 weeks) and parental leave (61 weeks). The parental leave must begin immediately after maternity leave ends unless a different date is agreed upon by the employee and employer.

Family responsibility leave

This leave provides up to five days of unpaid time off work each employment year when an employee needs to help with the care, health, or education of a child under the age of 19 or any immediate family member in their care. But this leave does not accrue from year to year.

Critical illness or injury leave

Employees can take up to 36 weeks to care for a child and up to 16 weeks to care for a family member (over the age of 19) whose health has significantly deteriorated due to an illness or injury and their life is at risk.

Compassionate care leave

Employees can take up to 27 weeks of unpaid compassionate care leave within a 52-week period to care for a family member who is terminally ill.

Bereavement leave

All employees can use up to three days of unpaid leave if an immediate family member dies. They do not need to take the three days off consecutively.

Leave respecting the disappearance of child

An employee can take up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave due to a crime-related disappearance of their child. The leave will end 14 days after the child is found alive, or on the date the child is found dead. The employee can then use the leave respecting the death of a child.

The leave also ends if the child’s disappearance was not crime related or if the employee is charged with a crime in the matter of the child’s disappearance.

Leave respecting the death of a child

In the event of the death of a child, an employee is entitled to 104 weeks of unpaid leave. The leave begins on the date of the child’s death. The leave ends if the employee is charged with a crime in connection with the child’s death.

Reservists’ leave

Employees who are also a reservist for the Canadian Armed Forces are allowed 20 days of unpaid leave in a calendar year for:

  • Being deployed to an operation outside of Canada
  • Participating in pre- or post-deployment training activities
  • Being deployed to help with an emergency or its aftermath in Canada

Jury duty leave

All employees are entitled to unpaid jury duty leave.

Termination Notice and Pay

Employers can terminate employment without cause by either giving the employee written working notice or an equal amount of pay called compensation for length of service. They can also give a combination of both working notice and pay.

Under the BC Employment Standards Act, employers can also terminate an employee for just cause. When terminating an employee for just cause, employers are not required to give notice or pay in-lieu of notice.

Employees continue to work and earn wages during the notice period. The notice period cannot start if a worker is on vacation, leave, is temporarily laid off, on strike or absent from work due to medical reasons.

The notice period and/or amount of pay in-lieu depends on the employee’s length of service. After three consecutive months of employment, an employee is entitled to one week’s notice and/or pay.

If an employee has worked for an employer for more than a year, they are entitled to two weeks’ notice and/or pay. After three years of service, an employee is entitled to three weeks of notice and/or pay. For each additional year of employment (up to a maximum of eight years), employers must provide employees with one extra week of notice.

Group terminations

In case an employer plans to terminate the employment of 50 or more employees at a single location within a two-month period, the employer has to give written notice of group termination to each employee, the Minister of Labour, and any trade union representing the employees.

Temporary layoffs

Temporary layoffs allow employers to reduce a worker’s wages and work without ending the employment relationship. If an employer reduces a worker’s earnings to less than 50% of their regular weekly wages averaged over the previous 8 weeks, the employee is considered temporarily laid off. The temporary layoff must not exceed the maximum permissible length set down in the BC Employment Standards Act.

The maximum permissible length of a temporary layoff in BC is 13 weeks in a 20-week period. Any layoff that exceeds this limit is considered to be a termination of employment.

Laid off employees are still considered to be employed and continue to accrue benefits and entitlements.

Under the ESA, temporary layoffs are only allowed if:

  • They are a common practice in the employer’s industry
  • The employment contract includes a clause allowing for temporary layoffs
  • The employee consents to be laid off

Temporary layoffs during COVID-19

In 2020, the maximum permissible length for a layoff in BC was extended temporarily. The extensions have now expired. Employers wishing for an extension of a temporary layoff must apply for a variance from the Director of Employment Standards.

How do I contact Employment Standards in BC?

The Employment Standards Branch manages the Employment Standards Act and Regulation. You can contact the BC Employment Standards Branch by calling them at 1-833-236-3700 or sending a text to 604-660-2421. The Branch is open Monday through Friday, from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Time.

Are there any other laws besides the ESA that affect BC workplaces?

Yes. Besides the BC Employment Standards Act, other important work-related laws include the B.C. Human Rights Code, the B.C. Labour Relations Code (if you employ unionized employees), the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.

Do you need help staying compliant with the BC Employment Standards Act?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.

This article provides a brief overview of British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act. It is not a legal document. For more details, please refer to the ESA.