Sick days in BC: What small businesses need to provide for sick leave

sick leave days in bcA common question we receive revolves around what small businesses need to provide for sick days in BC. Employers want to know how many paid sick days they are obligated to give and what the industry standards are for paid sick days, while employees want to know if they will be paid if they need to take time off from work due to illness.

Employers are not required to provide paid sick days in BC, regardless of the size of the business. There is no standard number of sick days to offer your staff – it can range anywhere from zero to over twelve per year. Some employers offer short-term disability coverage for extended absences of limited duration, and long-term disability coverage for more extended absences.

As a small business owner or manager, you’ve likely had an unwritten policy of providing your employees with a paid sick day here and there. If you want to formalize your policy as part of your employee handbook, then consider placing a cap on the number of consecutive days of paid sick leave that you will provide.

To determine your approach, consider the average time off an illness will take for recovery. It’s not uncommon for someone to take a week to recover from a flu virus. Is it better for the employee to stay home and rest, or would you rather he/she came to work and potentially infect his/her co-workers because he/she couldn’t afford to stay home?

When should I ask my employee for a doctor’s note?

Another common question we receive is whether an employer needs to ask an employee to provide a doctor’s note to verify each absence in order to prevent abuse of sick leave.

We are a believer in the honour system and treating your employees with trust and empathy. When your employee contacts you, do you trust them that they are genuinely sick? The answer is generally yes. However, abuse of the honour system and taking sick days when the employee is not genuinely sick is grounds for discipline.

With this philosophy in mind, we generally believe that there is no need to ask an employee to provide a note for an absence of one or two sick days. The employee would be better off resting and recovering, rather than trying to see a doctor while they are at their worst and putting an unnecessary burden on the medical system. We normally recommend asking for a doctor’s note after 3 consecutive days of illness. The doctor’s note should outline any medical restrictions the employee may have, and the date the employee will be able to return to work. Any fee for the completion of a doctor’s note should be reimbursed by the employer.

What leaves of absence am I obligated to provide under the BC Employment Standards Act?

While providing paid or unpaid sick days in BC is not required, the BC Employment Standards Act does provide for a number of unpaid leaves of absence for employees such as pregnancy leave, parental leave, bereavement leave and jury duty leave.  Two additional leaves of absence that we wish to highlight are Family Responsibility Leave and Compassionate Care Leave.

What is Family Responsibility Leave?

Family Responsibility Leave is an unpaid leave of up to 5 days per year. This leave is designed to help employees meet responsibilities that relate to the care, health or education of the employee’s immediate family. Family responsibility leave does not accumulate from year to year if it is not used during the employment year.

What is the definition of immediate family?

Under the BC Employment Standards Act, the immediate family is defined as:

  • the spouse, child, parent, guardian, sibling, grandchild or grandparent of an employee;
  • any person who lives with an employee as a member of the employee’s family; and
  • Includes common-law spouses, step-parents, and step-children, or same sex partners and their children.

What is Compassionate Care Leave?

Compassionate Care Leave provides that all employees are entitled to up to 8 weeks of unpaid leave within a period of 26 weeks to care for a gravely ill family member. Gravely ill means the family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks. The employee must obtain a medical certificate to this end. A family member has a broad definition, which can be found in the Leaves and Jury Duty Factsheet.

Navigating the matter of sick days in BC can be complex, so if you would like human resources solutions for creating sick leave and leaves of absence HR policies for your Vancouver-based small business, please contact Clear HR Consulting.


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