Saskatchewan and British Columbia (“BC”) have become the first Canadian jurisdictions to enact legislation which provide employees with time off to be vaccinated for COVID-19. In particular, on March 18, 2021, amendments to Saskatchewan’s The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 2020 (the “Saskatchewan Regulations”), under The Saskatchewan Employment Act, came into force to create a new paid, job-protected leave of absence. Similarly, on April 1, 2021, the BC government followed suit by amending the province’s Employment Standards Regulation (the “BC Regulation”), under the BC Employment Standards Act, to provide for an unpaid, job-protected leave of absence.
The amended Saskatchewan Regulations now include section 6-22.1, which establishes the Special Vaccination Leave (the “Saskatchewan Leave”). The Saskatchewan Leave requires employers to provide, at the request of an employee, a leave of at least three consecutive hours for the purpose of permitting the employee to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Employers can provide employees with a period longer than three consecutive hours if, in the “opinion of the employer”, the circumstances warrant a longer period (for example, where an employee is required to travel from a remote location to receive a vaccination). During the Saskatchewan Leave, employers must ensure that the employee does not lose any pay or other benefits.
In a FAQ addressing the Saskatchewan Leave, the government of Saskatchewan provided the following points of clarification:
- the Saskatchewan Leave only applies to one dose of a vaccine, despite that most of the COVID-19 vaccines available require persons to receive two doses. As the Saskatchewan Regulations indicate that the Saskatchewan Leave is for three consecutive hours, employees cannot split the three-hour Saskatchewan Leave in order to receive doses on two occasions;
- the Saskatchewan Leave does not apply retroactively, and is available only on March 18, 2021 or later. Employees who have already received a COVID-19 vaccine and who had to take personal time or another leave prior to March 18, 2021 in order to be vaccinated are not entitled to be paid for that time under the Saskatchewan Regulations;
- part-time employees will be eligible to request time off to be vaccinated for COVID-19 during work hours, despite that they could be vaccinated outside of their working hours; and
- employees cannot be required to show proof that they received a COVID-19 vaccine in order to validate their entitlement to the Saskatchewan Leave.
The amended BC Regulation expands the existing COVID-19-related leave under section 52.12 of the BC Employment Standards Act to allow all part-time and full-time workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or assist a dependant who is being vaccinated against COVID-19 (the “BC Leave”). Like the Saskatchewan Leave, the BC Leave is a job-protected, statutory leave.
However, the BC Leave differs from the Saskatchewan Leave in a few significant ways. In contrast to the Saskatchewan Leave, the BC Leave is unpaid. Moreover, the BC Leave does not specify the length of time an employee is entitled to take off from work to be vaccinated. Instead, the BC Employment Standards Act entitles an employee to the BC Leave for as long as a prescribed circumstance, such as receiving vaccinations, applies to the employee. Accordingly, employees claiming the BC Leave will likely be entitled to take an amount of time off work that is necessary to be vaccinated or to assist a dependant to be vaccinated.
Takeaways for Employers
As vaccination efforts across Canada scale up, it still remains to be seen whether Ontario and other Canadian jurisdictions will follow in Saskatchewan and BC’s footsteps and implement job-protected vaccination leaves, and if so, whether such leaves will provide for paid time off and/or be limited to a specific length of time.
Many employers are currently undecided on their approach to COVID-19 vaccinations. However, regardless of the approach chosen, employers should consider offering paid time off to encourage employees to receive vaccinations if it is financially feasible for them to do so. Certain Canadian employers have already led the charge by implementing policies to provide all their employees with paid time off to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, independent of any legislative requirement.
By offering paid time off for employees to get vaccinated, employers may come to enjoy a healthy and stable workforce and ultimately improve their bottom line. Moreover, such employers will not only reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks in their workplace, they will likely also increase morale among their employees.
As always, we will continue tracking COVID-19 related developments affecting employers and will post further updates as they become available to keep you In the Know.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.