Taking sick days

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Achoo! Whether you’ve got a case of the sniffles or a major injury, you might need to take time off work to recover from an illness or injury. Learn your rights to taking sick days.

Alert!

BC law provides for paid sick leave as of January 1, 2022. Eligible workers are entitled to five days of paid sick leave per year. Read on to learn the details.

What you should know

Your right to take sick days from work depends on two factors:

  • whether you’re covered by BC’s Employment Standards Act (the main provincial law that protects workers)
  • your employment contract

If your contract says how many sick days you’re entitled to, note it can’t be less than your rights under employment standards law.

Workers covered by BC’s employment standards law are entitled to five days of paid leave per year if they can’t work due to illness or injury. This is called paid sick leave.

Workers covered by the employment standards law are also entitled to three days of unpaid sick leave per year. This is on top of the paid sick leave entitlement.

To be eligible for these leaves, you must have been in the job for at least 90 days.

As well, you must be covered by employment standards law. Most workers in BC are covered. But not all are. If you’re unsure whether this law applies to you, we offer guidance. See who’s covered by BC’s employment standards law.

If your employer asks, you must provide enough information for them to confirm you’re too ill or injured to work.

Workers entitled to paid sick leave must be paid an average day’s pay for each day of leave taken. An average day’s pay is calculated by dividing total wages earned in the 30 days prior to the sick day by the number of days worked. Total wages includes vacation and stat holiday pay, but doesn’t include overtime pay.

Note that this is the minimum amount required by law. If your employment contract says you’re entitled to more in sick pay, your employer must pay you that higher amount.

The government has introduced rules to help workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Workers covered by the employment standards law are entitled to unpaid job-protected leave if they can’t work due to COVID-19.

This is called COVID-19 unpaid leave. You can take it for as long as you need while the public health emergency lasts.

Some employers offer disability insurance benefits. Check your employment contract or benefits plan (if you have one) for details.

Another option to look into is employment insurance benefits (or EI, as it’s often called). You may be eligible for EI sickness benefits. To qualify, you must:

  • in the last 52 weeks, have worked a minimum of 600 hours in work covered by the EI program
  • have seen your average weekly pay decrease by more than 40% for at least one week

If you’re eligible, you could receive up to 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits.

Generally, your employer can fire you at any time as long as they give you notice or pay you instead. However, your employer can’t fire you because you are sick or injured.

In fact, if you’re too sick or injured to work your employer has a duty to accommodate. That means they must do what they can to accommodate your disabling condition to make it easier for you to work. We have information on what this means, if you’d like to know more. See the employer’s duty to accommodate.

Work out the problem

If you want to take a sick day and run into problems, there are steps you can take.

Step 1. Notify your employer

Step 2. Speak to your employer

Step 3. Write to your employer

Step 4. Make an employment standards complaint

Step 1. Notify your employer

You must give notice to your employer if you’re unable to work because of illness or injury.

Some employers may require a doctor’s note.

Step 2. Speak to your employer

If your employer denies you the sick leave or sick pay you think you’re entitled to, try raising the issue with them directly. Explain your concerns, and share your view of things. We can give you some tips for talking with your employer. See tips for talking with your employer.

Step 3. Write to your employer

If talking in person doesn’t solve the problem (or you’d rather skip that step), try writing a letter to your employer. Explain your concerns, and tell them you’d like to work together to come to an agreement.

We offer detailed guidance on writing a letter to your employer. See our five tips for writing to your employer.

Step 4. Make an employment standards complaint

If you’ve gone through the previous steps and still haven’t resolved the issue, you can file a formal complaint. This is called making an employment standards complaint. It’s an option available to workers covered by BC’s employment standards law.

We offer guidance on what's involved. Here's how to make an employment standards complaint.

If you want to go further, we have in-depth info on taking sick days. See taking sick days.

Who can help

This agency can help if you’re denied the sick leave you’re entitled to under employment standards law.

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
Administers the law in BC that sets minimum standards for workers.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website

Getting legal advice can help you decide on the best course of action.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Call 1-800-663-1919Visit website
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 1-877-762-6664Visit website
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People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in September 2022
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Trevor Thomas, Ascent Employment Law

Trevor Thomas, Ascent Employment Law

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

Related

On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Time off work in the section on Work.

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