When you’re sick, one of the last places you want to be is at work. Most employers recognize it’s not in their interests either. Better to let you rest and recover, and not risk having the illness spread to others. As a result, while paid sick days aren’t mandatory under the law, many employers provide them. Learn your rights around taking sick days.
Your entitlement to taking sick days
“I work at a preschool, so I’m surrounded by germs all the time. Last month I came down with a bad flu and missed four days of work. Luckily, under my employment contract I’m entitled to 10 paid sick days per year. It’s nice to know I won’t be out of pocket on the days that I’m too ill to go in.”
– Devon, Surrey
In BC, there is no law requiring that a worker be given time off when ill or injured. In other words, employers don’t have to pay for sick days. But many employers offer paid sick days as a benefit. These enable workers to still get paid even though they’re too sick or injured to work. Most employers set a cap on the number of paid sick days a worker can take each year.
Whether you’re entitled to paid sick days will depend on the terms of your employment contract. Every worker has an employment contract. The terms of your contract may be in a written agreement. Or the terms may be expressed in other ways, such as in:
- letters or emails you received from your employer before you started working
- anything you’re asked to sign before or after you started working
- an office policy manual or staff handbook
- a collective agreement (if you’re a member of a union)
If paid sick days are included in your employment contract, your employer is legally required to pay you when you’re too sick or injured to work (as long as you haven’t used up your allotment of paid sick days).
Changes are being considered to the Employment Standards Act, the main law that protects workers in BC. A report recommends the Act provide all workers with a certain number of sick days each year. For details, see the BC Law Institute website.
If you need to take a sick day
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. Most won’t ask for a doctor’s note if you only take one or two sick days. After three or more days, they may ask for one, to understand how serious your illness is. Generally, the note should outline any medical restrictions you have, and include the date the doctor predicts you should be able to return to work.
Your doctor may charge you a fee to prepare the doctor’s note. If your employer requested the note, consider asking them to reimburse you for the cost.
If your employer fires you for getting sick
Generally, your employer can fire you whenever they want as long as they give you notice in advance, or pay you instead (as explained in our page on how much notice an employer needs to give). But your employer can’t let you go from your job because you are sick or injured.
If you are too sick or injured to work, your employer owes you a duty to accommodate your disabling condition. This means they must consider what can be done to maintain the employment relationship before firing you. This might include allowing you to take leaves from work for treatment and recovery. Or it might include making modifications to your duties or work schedule.
Your employer’s duty to accommodate you isn’t limitless. It extends only to the point where the accommodation starts causing them “undue hardship.” We explain what this means in our page on the employer’s duty to accommodate.
If you think you’ve been fired unjustly, there are steps you can take. See our guidance on if you are fired, under “Work out problems.”
Your eligibility for insurance benefits
An illness or injury may prevent you from working for an extended period. Some employers offer disability insurance benefits. Short-term disability coverage can help for extended absences of limited duration, and long-term disability coverage for more extended absences. Check your employment contract, as well as your benefits plan if you have one.
Another option to explore is Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. You may be eligible for EI sickness benefits if all of the following apply to you:
- You are employed in “insurable employment.”
- You’re unable to work because of sickness or injury, but you’d otherwise be able to work.
- Your normal weekly earnings have been reduced by more than 40%.
- You’ve worked for at least 600 hours during the “qualifying period.” The qualifying period is the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter.
If you’re eligible, you could receive up to 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits. See the federal government’s website for guidance on how to apply.
Step 1. Check your employment contract
If you have an issue around taking time off due to illness or injury, have a look through your employment contract. Under BC law, employers aren’t required to provide paid sick days. But your employment contract might entitle you to paid sick days. See above, under “What you should know.”
Step 2. Speak to your employer
If your employment contract doesn’t mention paid sick days, raise the issue with your employer directly. Ask them if there’s a workplace policy around sick days. It could be written (for example, in a workplace manual) or unwritten. Ask your employer to explain their perspective. If they don’t believe you’re too sick to work, consider getting a doctor’s note saying so.
Approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips to help you talk with your employer.
Step 3. Write to your employer
If discussing the issue with your employer directly doesn’t work, consider putting your concerns in writing. Explain your perspective and your interest in working together to find a solution. We provide tips for writing to your employer in our page on writing a letter to your employer.
Keep a copy of the letter. Having a written record could be useful if you need to take additional steps.
Step 4. Get legal advice
If the above steps haven’t resolved the issue, consider seeking legal help. An experienced employment lawyer can explain what your rights are, and advise you on next steps.
I was fired from my job when I returned from taking a sick day. Is this legal?
Almost surely not. Generally, your employer can fire you whenever they want as long as they give you notice in advance, or pay you instead (as explained in our page on how much notice an employer needs to give). But an employer can’t let you go from your job because you are sick or injured. Nor would taking a sick day amount to just cause to fire you.
If you suspect you were fired for getting sick, there are steps you can take. See our guidance on if you are fired, under “Work out problems.”
How much will I receive in sick pay?
This will depend on what your employment contract says. In many workplaces, if you’re only taking a few days off, sick days are paid at 100% of your regular wage. That is, your employer pays you your regular wage for the days you’re too ill to work.
For longer absences, you may be eligible for disability benefits. Usually these payments are based on your regular wage and are reduced over time. Ask your employer if they have a benefits plan. It’s a good idea to learn the details of the plan before you become too ill to work.