B.C. is following the lead of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, changing its employment law to protect people from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 effects.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth presented amendments to the Employment Standards Act in a minimal session of the B.C. legislature March 23, as one of 10 MLAs present for a legal quorum while most provincial politicians joined others in staying home as much as possible.
The main effect of the bill is to make sure no one can be fired for following the directions of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has made a range of orders closing businesses and restricting gatherings. It allows people to take unpaid, job-protected leave, retroactive to Jan. 27, 2020 when the first B.C. case of the novel coronavirus was identified.
The legislation also protects people if “they have been directed by their employer to stay home because of concerns about their exposure to others, or because they are unable to return to British Columbia because of a travel or border restriction, or they are providing care to their minor child or dependent adult who is their child or former foster child, including when a school or daycare facility has closed,” Farnworth said.
“The leave will be available for as long as one of these eligible COVID-19 related situations applies to employees.”
B.C. Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau applauded a provision to guarantee employees three days of unpaid leave per year due to illness or injury.
With airlines and services curtailed, only nine MLAs joined Premier John Horgan in the legislature for what may be the last scheduled sitting of what would normally be the spring session of the legislature. Labour Minister Harry Bains was among the majority who stayed away.