Job-protected leave has been written into British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act to give workers time off to get their coronavirus vaccinations.
Labour Minister Harry Bains says the safeguard will ensure that no one will lose their job if they need time away to get vaccinated. The changes allow part-time and full-time workers to take as much time as needed to travel and receive the vaccine or to take a dependent family member to get their shot, though no specific time has been set out.
Bains says he knows most employers understand the importance of having their employees vaccinated to provide a safe place for workers and their customers. The regulatory changes also include expanding job-protection leave for reasons related to coronavirus, aligning with federal government sickness and caregiver benefits.
Those changes would allow a worker in the province to take leave if they need to care for other family members because of coronavirus while their job remains protected. Major unions urged the government to ensure employees don’t lose pay for the work they miss while getting their vaccine.
The BC Federation of Labour and Unifor both pointed to Saskatchewan, where the government has announced three hours of vaccination leave, as a model. Alongside the legislative move by the province of Saskatchewan, many private employers across North America, including Canada Goose, have said they will offer their employees paid time off to get the coronavirus vaccine.
“While job-protected leave is crucial, many workers can’t afford to take that time off if it means losing wages,” Sussanne Skidmore, the federation’s secretary-treasurer, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Unifor is currently writing all provincial premiers to mandate both vaccine leave and paid sick days for workers who contract the coronavirus so they can quarantine at home without financial penalty, according to a press release.
“We all know that vaccination is key to paving the way for the safe reopening of businesses and the economic recovery we’re all waiting for,” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, in the release. “Employers who are advocating for lifting restrictions must also do their part and remove all barriers to workers to get the vaccine.”
The federal government currently offers paid sick leave via its Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit program, but critics argue the process of applying and waiting for payments creates unnecessary barriers for employees to navigate during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In Ontario, the provincial government eliminated a paid two-day entitlement in 2019 and replaced it with three new unpaid leaves of absence, available to any Ontario employee regardless of the size of employer. The provincial government didn’t reinstate paid sick days in its 2021 budget, a move that was met with criticism by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn.