LABOUR Minister Harry Bains on Monday introduced amendments to the Employment Standards Act. The amendments, if approved by the legislature, will better support working families in British Columbia by providing new, extended and more flexible maternity, parental and compassionate care leaves.
“These amendments are about supporting B.C. workers and extending compassion to families who face tragic circumstances, such as the loss or disappearance of a child, or the need to care for a dying family member,” said Bains. “It will not erase the pain experienced during a personal or family crisis, but it can help ease the worry and stress over job security.”
The amendments will allow mothers to start their pregnancy leave, also known as maternity leave, as early as 13 weeks before the expected birth date, up from the current 11 weeks. New parents will also have the option to take a longer unpaid parental leave to care for their new child – resulting in a total of up to 18 months of leave for birth mothers – while ensuring job protection. These changes align B.C.’s leave provisions with federal employment insurance (EI) benefits.
Parents who face life’s most difficult circumstances, which may require extended absence from their jobs, will now have additional supports. In addition to the extended maternity and parental leave amendments, Bains introduced a new unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 52 weeks to help if a worker’s child is missing as a result of a crime. Currently, there is no provision in B.C. for parents to take a leave from work in the event their child is missing.
In addition, the Province will introduce a new unpaid leave providing job protection for parents dealing with the death of a child. This leave will provide up to 104 weeks if a worker’s child under 19 years of age dies under any circumstances – a significant addition to the three days of unpaid “bereavement leave” currently available. B.C. will join Ontario as the only provinces to offer job protection after a child’s death for any reason.
Further, the amendments to compassionate care leave will more than triple the length of leave, from eight weeks to 27 weeks. This is available to an employee who must care for a family member who is terminally ill.
The changes will ensure B.C.’s employment standards for these five special work absences are at least as good, if not better, than those offered by other jurisdictions in Canada. They will also enable eligible British Columbians to access full EI maternity, parental and compassionate care benefits without jeopardizing their job.
“I’m proud that our government recognizes no one should have to fear for their job while they are taking care of their loved ones,” said Mitzi Dean, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity. “These changes will give women and all workers some peace of mind that their jobs are protected when they are caring for family members at home.”
The introduction of these new, extended and more flexible leaves is a step toward meeting government’s commitment to updating employment standards to reflect the changing nature of work, and to promote flexibility and fairness. The Ministry of Labour is looking to make broader amendments to the Employment Standards Act, considering recommendations from the BC Law Institute’s review of the act – which is currently underway – and from organizations like the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition.
* B.C.’s Ministry of Labour is responsible for the Employment Standards Act. This legislation gives B.C. workers the right to unpaid, job-protected pregnancy, parental and compassionate care leave.
* The federal government financially supports eligible employees by providing benefits during these leaves through the EI program.