Taking unexpected time off

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 8, 2021

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Time off work

COVID-19 leave

Recent changes allow up to 3 hours of paid leave for you to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and up to 3 days of paid sick leave if it's related to COVID-19.

You can take up to 3 hours of paid leave to be vaccinated against COVID-19. If necessary, you can take additional paid leave for a second dose.

Employees are entitled to this leave no matter how long they have been employed.

Paid leave is retroactive to April 19, 2021.

How to calculate paid leave for vaccination

If you take this leave, your employer needs to pay you at least your average hourly wage for each hour of leave you take, up to 3 hours. To calculate your average hourly wage, use the following formula: 

Hourly wage = amount paid ÷ hours worked

Base your calculation on days worked during the 30 calendar days before the leave started. Include all wages – this includes salary, commission, statutory holiday pay and paid vacation days. Don't include overtime. This hourly wage rate must be at least minimum wage.

Employees are entitled to this leave, even if their employer doesn't qualify for reimbursement. Find out more information about the government administered reimbursement program for employers.

Employees are entitled to this leave no matter how long they have been employed.

You can take up to 3 days of paid leave between May 20, 2021 and December 31, 2021 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

How to calculate an average day's pay

If you qualify for this leave, your employer must pay at least an average day’s pay for each day of paid leave you take. To calculate your 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.

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

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

  • You are assisting a dependant being vaccinated against COVID-19
  • 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 an eligible person 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
  • You are more susceptible to COVID-19 in the opinion of a medical professional because of an underlying health condition, ongoing treatment or other illness and are receiving Canada recovery sickness benefits for the leave

Unpaid 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 taken 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.

An employer may ask for reasonable proof that an employee is entitled to a COVID-19 leave. They cannot require an employee to provide a certificate or proof that an employee has received a vaccine. Employers can require medical notes in the context of issues such as return-to-work situations or for accommodation purposes.

"Reasonable proof" is determined based on the unique circumstances of the case, including the duration of the leave and the availability of evidence. Some examples of proof may include:

  • Documentation showing travel that requires quarantine or isolation
  • Official public health information advising quarantine or isolation (for example, a screen shot or recording of the announcement)
  • A copy of an order to isolate, issued to the employee 
  • A screenshot of the applicable order of the Public Health Officer, guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control, guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada

Employers should allow a reasonable timeframe for an employee to provide proof. For example, an employee might have limited ability to gather documents if they are in isolation or quarantined. However, if the employee has electronic evidence that can be sent from home, it may be reasonable for the employee to send it while on leave

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.

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've been laid off due to COVID-19 and your employer is not ready to recall you back to work, you have options.

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.


Additional resources

If you have questions, find out who to contact: