Handling Absences & Other Disruptions
Find out what you must do if employees fall ill, are absent from work or your business is unexpectedly disrupted.
Estimated read time: 3 minutes
On this page:
- Job-protected leaves
- Other absences
- Temporarily laying off employees
- Group terminations
- Additional resources
Leaves of absence are unpaid, but an employee's employment is protected if they take them. Employees decide if they need to take a leave of absence. They must tell you when they need to take the leave and why.
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, many employees are unexpectedly taking time off work. 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. Once it is no longer needed, this leave will be removed from the Employment Standards Act.
You cannot require an employee to provide a doctor’s note.
Personal illness or injury leave
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 the employee for reasonable evidence that they are ill or injured and therefore entitled to the leave.
Employers cannot deduct sick leave from an employee's vacation, statutory holiday pay or wages. An employee can request vacation pay for the days they take off sick, but such a request should be in writing to demonstrate that it was the employee who decided to use vacation pay for a sick day.
Before the leave
You can ask an employee for proof that their leave is one of the allowed types. They need to provide the proof as soon as it is reasonably possible. They don't need to provide it before starting the leave.
During the leave
While an employee is on a leave of absence, you must consider their employment as continuous. They receive wage and benefit increases like normal. You generally need to continue to make payments to benefit plans.
You cannot terminate (fire or lay off) an employee on leave or change their job conditions unless they agree in writing.
When the leave ends
When the leave ends, you need to contact the employee and arrange their return to work. Just because the employee does not contact you doesn't mean they have abandoned or quit their job.
You must return the employee to the job they had before the leave. If that job no longer exists (and there isn't a similar job), the employee can be laid off. You might have to pay compensation for length of service based on the last day of employment.
Employers can choose when employees take vacation. You must schedule an employee's vacation in periods of one week or more, unless they ask for a shorter amount of time.
An employee earns annual vacation during the first year they're employed. After 12 months, they get two weeks of vacation. After five years, they get three weeks of 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
In B.C., there is no ability for an employer to temporarily lay off employees, unless:
- The employee agrees to the layoff
- The layoff is part of a contract or agreement in place before the layoff
If either of the above apply, you can lay off an employee for a maximum of 13 weeks. You must be able to prove the layoff meets these conditions. If the layoff is longer than 13 weeks or there isn't an agreement in place for the layoff, it becomes a termination of employment.
If none of the above apply (for example, no agreement or no contract for layoff) and you reduce an employee's hours by 50% or more, this could be considered a termination of employment.
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. Find out more about group termination.
If you have questions, find out who to contact:
- BC Centre for Disease Control
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Contact Employment Standards