Handling Absences & Other Disruptions
Find out what you must do if employees fall ill, are absent from work or your business is unexpectedly disrupted.
Last updated: May 11, 2020
Estimated read time: 3 minutes
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The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control is the best source for COVID-19 health information.
In response to COVID-19, a new unpaid, job-protected leave has been established for employees unable to work for specified reasons relating to COVID-19. Employees can take this leave for as long as they need it without putting their job at risk. You cannot require an employee to provide a doctor’s note.
An employee who can’t work due to personal illness or injury can take up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave. This leave applies to any employee who has been employed for at least 90 days. Employers can ask an employee for reasonable evidence that they are ill or injured.
Leaves of absence are unpaid, but an employee's job is protected if they take them. Employees decide if they need to take a leave of absence, tell you when they need to take the leave and why.
Before the leave
You can ask the employee for proof that their leave is one of the allowed types. Proof doesn't need to be provided before starting the leave
During the leave
The employee's job is protected while they're on a leave of absence:
- Employment is considered to be continuous
- The employee receives wage and benefit increases like normal
- You can't fire or lay off the employee or change their job conditions unless they agree in writing
When the leave ends
At the end of the leave:
- Contact the employee and arrange their return to work
- Return them to the job they had before the leave
If the employee's job no longer exists (and there isn't a similar job), their employment might have been ended and you may have to pay compensation for length of service.
After one year of work, employees get to take annual vacation. Employers can choose when employees take vacation.
- Cancel employee vacations due to a shortage of employees
- Require employees to take vacation if there isn't enough work for staff
Sending an employee home
Layoffs are temporary, not permanent. If an employee won't be returning to a regular work schedule, the layoff is a termination of employment.
Employees that have been laid off are still considered to be employed. Any benefits and entitlements (including vacation and leaves of absence) are protected.
Employees must agree to the layoff
This means that the layoff is:
- Normal and expected in the industry (e.g. in the logging industry where work cannot be performed during “break-up”) OR
- Part of an employment contract OR
- Agreed to between the employee and the employer
An employee's decision on whether to refuse a layoff and end their employment may affect their eligibility for federal government benefits
Layoffs have a maximum length
If the layoff is for reasons related to the COVID-19 emergency, the layoff can be up to 16 weeks in a 20 week period.
Otherwise, layoffs can only be up to 13 weeks in a period of 20 weeks (about three months in a period of five months).
If an employee is covered by a collective agreement, the maximum length of a layoff is the period of time during which they have the right to be recalled.
If circumstances require you to terminate 50 or more employees at a single location within a two-month period, you must give written notice of group termination to each employee affected, the Minister of Labour and any trade union that represents the employees.
If you have questions, find out who to contact:
- BC Centre for Disease Control
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Contact Employment Standards