On April 12, 2018, Bill 6, Employment Standards Amendment Act 2018 passed third reading in the BC Legislature and will come into force on royal assent. The bill contains amendments to the BC Employment Standards Act ("ESA"), including the introduction of new and extended statutorily-protected leaves of absence. This bulletin will provide an overview of these key changes.
Pregnancy Leave - Section 50 of the ESA
The main amendment to section 50 of the ESA governing pregnancy leaves will allow expecting mothers to commence pregnancy leave as early as 13 weeks prior to the expected birth date, two weeks earlier than before the amendment. In addition, the amendment increases the maternity leave entitlement for an employee who requests leave after giving birth to a child from 6 weeks to 17 weeks.
Parental Leave - Section 51 of the ESA
The amendment to section 51 of the ESA will entitle new mothers to begin up to 61 additional consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave immediately after their pregnancy leave under section 50 of the ESA.
Changes to section 51 will also affect non-birth parents and adopting parents who will now be entitled to up to 62 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave, which must begin within 78 weeks after the birth of the child or after the child is placed with the parent (in the case of adoption). This represents an increase from the prior entitlement of 37 consecutive weeks of unpaid parental leave.
Compassionate Care Leave - Section 52.1 of the ESA
Compassionate care leave, which is available to employees who must care for a family member that is terminally ill and has a significant risk of death within 6 months, will increase from 8 weeks to 27 weeks. Compassionate care leave will remain unpaid under the ESA.
Leave Respecting Disappearance of Child - Section 52.3 of the ESA
Unpaid leave respecting the disappearance of child is a new statutorily-protected leave added by Bill 6. It provides a parent whose child (under 19 years of age) disappears as a result of crime with up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave. This leave is not available for employees who are charged (but not necessarily convicted) with a crime that resulted in the disappearance of their child. The leave must be taken consecutively, though it may be taken intermittently with the employer's consent.
Despite the general 52 weeks timeline, the unpaid leave may end earlier on the date on which the child is found dead; the date on which the circumstances indicate it is no longer probable that the child's disappearance is a result of crime; or 14 days after the child is found alive.
This addition brings B.C. in line with several other Canadian provinces who have a comparable statutorily-protected leave for employees whose child disappears as a result of crime.
Leave Respecting Death of Child - Section 52.4 of the ESA
Prior to the introduction of Bill 6, the general bereavement leave provision of the ESA entitled an employee to take up to 3 days of unpaid leave on the death of an immediate family member, including a child. Bill 6 introduces a new provision to the ESA specifically dealing with the death of a child, and allows an employee to take up to 104 weeks (2 years) of unpaid leave following the death of a child (under 19 years of age).
This leave must be taken consecutively but may be taken intermittently with the employer's consent.
Employers in B.C. should ensure that they are aware of the amendments to the ESA and update their leave policies accordingly. Please contact Maxwell Brunette, Michael Schalke, Kristen Cruise or Jonathan Lam, members of Gowling WLG's Employment, Labour & Equalities team should you require legal advice on the B.C. ESA amendments or any employment-related issues.