COVID-19 sick pay: Workers in B.C. can soon apply for reimbursement for time off

Workers who need to take time off for COVID-19 moving forward will soon be able to apply for wage reimbursement under B.C.’s sick-pay program.

The reimbursement program, which was announced earlier this month, will be applicable for time off taken between May 20 and Dec. 31, 2021.

“No worker should have to choose between going to work sick or losing pay to stay home. Effective May 20, workers can take up to three days of paid sick leave for circumstances related to COVID-19,” Harry Bains, B.C.’s labour minister, said in a news release Friday.

“This means that if a person is sick with COVID-19 or needs to self-isolate because of a public health order, has symptoms and is waiting for a test result, they are immediately supported to stay home from work without any gap in their paycheque, for up to three days.”

WorkSafeBC will administer that reimbursement on behalf of the province. The organization is currently in the process of setting up their system, but applications dating back to May 20 will be accepted once it launches.

Employers will be required to pay workers their full wages and the province will reimburse employers who don’t currently have a sick-leave program up to $200 per day to cover those costs.

“We know that to move past this pandemic we need to reduce transmission in the workplace and encourage people to stay home when they are sick. This leave helps do just that,” Bains said.

When the program was announced, the province said it was meant to “bridge the gap” for workers between when they first feel sick and when they can access the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. 

The federal benefit only kicks in when an employee works less than 50 per cent of their scheduled work week. The benefit gives $500 for a one-week period, and individuals must apply for renewal each week for a maximum of four weeks.

People who have already applied for the Canada Recovery Benefit, Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, short-term disability or EI aren’t eligible for the federal program.

After the pandemic, B.C.’s legislation will create a permanent paid sick leave option for workers who can’t work because of any illness or injury, starting on Jan. 1, 2022. The number of paid sick days under that program will be determined after consultation with the business community, labour organizations and Indigenous partners. 

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