Handling absences and other disruptions

Find out what you must do if employees fall ill, are absent from work or your business is unexpectedly disrupted.

Last updated: November 26, 2021

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Leave related to COVID-19

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control is the best source for COVID-19 health information.

Employees unable to work for specified reasons relating to COVID-19 can take job-protected leave. For example, an employee could take a leave to get vaccinated, to assist a dependant to get vaccinated or because they or someone they look after have been diagnosed with 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.

Illness or injury leave

Illness or injury leave is sometimes called sick leave.

An employee who can’t work due to personal illness or injury can take up to 3 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.

Effective January 1, 2022, the Employment Standards Act will provide up to 5 paid days and 3 unpaid days of job-protected leave each year for eligible employees.

Sending an employee home

If you send your employee home after they report to work because they're unfit for work due to illness or injury, illness or injury leave would apply. If they ask to leave early or you choose to send them home for reasons unrelated to personal illness or injury, they're only paid for time worked or minimum daily pay.

How to calculate an average day's pay

Effective January 1, 2022 and If your employee qualifies for paid leave, you must pay at least an average day’s pay for each day of paid leave they take. To calculate their average day's pay, use the following formula:

Total wages ÷ number of days worked = an average day's pay

Base your calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the first day of the leave. Include vacation days. Because an average day’s pay is calculated on the past 30 days, the amount of pay can sometimes change throughout the year.

Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay and paid vacation. Don't include overtime.

Changes to part 6, section 49.1

To provide an opportunity to prepare, advance notice for changes to legislation is available. The legislation will not be in force until January 1, 2022. This guide is an interpretation of the B.C. Employment Standards Act and Regulation to help provide a clear understanding of the law. It is not a legal document and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel. 

Leaves of absence

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.

Other absences

Annual vacation

After one year of work, employees get to take annual vacation. Employers can choose when employees take vacation.

Employers may:

  • 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

If an employee reports to work and they are unfit to work or if they ask to leave work early due to illness, you only need to pay them for the time they worked. Otherwise, you must pay them minimum daily pay of at least two hours.

Temporarily laying off employees

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

Layoffs can only be up to 13 weeks in a period of 20 weeks (about three months in a period of five months). You can apply for a variance to extend the maximum length of a temporary layoff.

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.

Group terminations

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.

Additional resources

If you have questions, find out who to contact: