Taking Unexpected Time Off Work

You can take time away from work to deal with unexpected illness or life situations. Not every work issue, workplace, or type of work is covered by B.C. employment standards. Find out if the standards apply to you.

Last updated: July 24, 2020

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Time Off Work

Most leaves covered by B.C. employment standards are unpaid, but your job is protected while you are on one.

COVID-19 leave

You can take unpaid, job-protected leave related to COVID-19 if you're unable to work for any of the following reasons:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse
  • You 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
  • Your employer has directed you not to work due to concern about your exposure to others
  • You need to provide care to your minor child or a dependent adult who is your child or former foster child for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare or similar facility closure
  • You are outside of BC and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions

The COVID-19 leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in British Columbia. This means that if you’ve had to take time off work because of COVID-19 since January 27, 2020, you’re protected from losing your job under the new law. During this public health emergency, you can take this job-protected leave for as long as you need it, without putting your job at risk.

Once it is no longer needed, this leave will be removed from the Employment Standards Act.

Annual vacation

You earn annual vacation during the first year you're employed. After 12 months, you get two weeks of vacation. After five years, you get three weeks of vacation. If you have not used all of your vacation, you can ask your employer to use your vacation to cover time off.

Your employer can schedule your vacation according to business needs. Annual vacation is scheduled in periods of one week or more unless you ask for a shorter amount of time

Caring for Yourself

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control is the best source for COVID-19 health information. If you're feeling unwell, check your symptoms online.

Personal illness or injury leave

The Employment Standards Act provides up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave each year if you can’t work due to personal illness or injury. This leave applies if you've worked for your employer for at least 90 days. You may need to provide reasonable evidence of eligibility to your employer.

Getting sent home

If you're unfit for work or if you ask to leave early, you're only paid for time worked. Otherwise, you're paid minimum daily pay of at least two hours.

Caring for Family Members

If you need time away from work to care for a family member, you can take a job-protected leave of absence without pay.

Family responsibility leave

You can take up to five days of unpaid leave to help care for a child or immediate family member.

Compassionate care leave

You can take up to 27 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member who is terminally ill.

Critical illness or injury leave

You can take time off to care for a family member whose life is at risk from illness or injury — up to 36 weeks for a child or 16 weeks for an adult family member.

Taking a leave

You don't need to work for a certain amount of time before taking a leave of absence. You need to say why you're taking a leave, but you don't need to give notice in advance.

Your employer can ask for proof that the leave is one of the types allowed. You need to provide the proof as soon as it is reasonably possible. You don't need to provide it before starting the leave.

Returning to work

You should tell your employer when you are planning to come back to work. While you're on a leave, your employer can't fire you, lay you off or change your job conditions.

When you return from a leave, if your employer can't give you your job back (or one like it), they might have to pay compensation for length of service based on your last day of employment.

Being Laid Off

You’re considered to be temporarily laid off when you’re given less work or no work – with the plan that you will return to a regular work schedule.

If your hours are reduced, you’re considered laid off as soon as you earn less than 50 percent of your weekly wages at your regular rate (compared to an average of the previous eight weeks).

You 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

Your employer needs to be able to prove this is the case. If they can't, the layoff may be a termination of employment.

Layoffs have a maximum length

Layoffs can only be up to 13 weeks in a period of 20 weeks (about three months in a period of five months).

If you're covered by a collective agreement, the maximum length of a layoff is the period of time during which you have the right to be recalled.

If the layoff is for reasons related to the COVID-19 emergency, the layoff can be extended up to a maximum of 24 weeks, ending on or before August 30, 2020. If you've been laid off due to COVID-19 and your employer is not ready to recall you back to work, you have options.

Additional Resources

If you have questions, find out who to contact: