Myth or fact?
Maybe you’ve come down with a seasonal flu. Or perhaps you’ve sprained an ankle while out running. Whatever the cause of an illness or injury, you may need time off work to recover. Learn your rights to taking sick days.
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
During the coronavirus outbreak, there is a job-protected, unpaid COVID-19 leave available to workers who aren’t able to work due to the pandemic. Workers can take this leave for as long as they need it while the public health emergency lasts.
The legal minimum
In BC, there is now a law requiring that workers be given paid time off when ill or injured. In each year, an employee can take up to five days of paid leave if they can’t work due to illness or injury. This is called paid sick leave.
As well, workers are entitled to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave if they can’t work due to illness or injury. This is on top of the paid leave entitlement.
You must have been in the job for at least 90 days to qualify for these leaves. And you must be covered by BC’s employment standards law (see who’s covered).
You may be entitled to more
“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, BC
You may be entitled to more than the legal minimum, depending 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).
You can't contract out of your legal entitlements
If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act, your employment contract can’t provide for less than what’s required under the Act. Whatever your contract says about leaves, it can't be any less than the minimum leave entitlements under the law (explained below).
Under the law, workers eligible for paid sick leave are entitled to 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.
Let’s look at an example. Say you wake up feeling ill on December 1 and want to take a sick day. You worked 20 days in November and earned $2,500 in hourly wages. You also received $120 of stat holiday pay on Remembrance Day. You worked a couple overtime shifts during the month and earned $75 in overtime pay.
An average day’s pay would be:
$2,500 + $120 = $2,620 divided by 20 days
This works out to $131 per day in paid sick leave.
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.
If you need to take unpaid COVID-19 leave
Under the law, an employer can’t require a doctor’s note from a worker who wants to take unpaid COVID-19 leave. But an employer is entitled to ask for reasonable proof of the reason for taking the leave.
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 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 here.
If you think you've been fired unfairly
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 the problem.
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 the employment insurance program. EI sickness benefits are temporary payments made to workers who can’t work for medical reasons.
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
Here are the full requirements.
If you qualify for EI sickness benefits, you receive 55% of your pay (capped at a maximum amount per week). The benefits last up to 26 weeks.
Work out problems
You must give notice to your employer if you’re unable to work due to illness or injury. If you’re legally entitled to take sick leave, your employer must grant your request. We explain who’s entitled to take sick leave above, under what you should know.
Employers are allowed to ask for reasonable proof that you need to take a sick day. Some may require a doctor’s note.
It's best to resolve things informally
It’s always easier and less expensive to resolve things directly with your employer, if possible. That said, you don’t need to approach your employer before filing a complaint (explained below).
If your employer denies you the sick leave you think you’re entitled to, raise the issue with them directly. Explain your concerns, and share your view of things. Let them know if you think they’re not following the legal rules in denying your request.
Tips for having a conversation with your employer
Approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips to help you talk with 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. For example, you could say something like:
“Under the Employment Standards Act, I’m entitled to up to five days of paid sick leave per year. I’ve provided a letter from my doctor stating that I’m too ill to work. [Modify to suit your situation.] Yet when I asked to take paid leave, you refused my request. I’d like to explore solutions to this issue with you as soon as possible.”
We provide tips for writing a letter to your employer.
Keep a copy of the letter. Having a written record will be useful if you need to take additional steps.
If you aren’t able to resolve things directly with your employer, you can make a formal complaint. Workers covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who's covered) can make a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. This government office administers the Act and helps workers and employers resolve problems. See our guidance on making an employment standards complaint for the steps to take.
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 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 the problem.
If you use up all the sick leave you’re entitled to under the Employment Standards Act, the next place to look is your employment contract. Check to see what it says about sick leave, and how much you’re entitled to. It can’t be less than what you get under the Act, but it could be more.
Once you’ve used up your full allotment of leave for the year, what happens next depends on your employer’s policies and practices. In many workplaces, this can involve being placed on a medical leave of absence. Note you can’t be fired for getting sick, as explained above.
If your illness or injury amounts to a disability, you’d be protected under BC’s human rights law. Your employer would have a legal duty to accommodate you. We explain this in our guidance on the employer’s duty to accommodate.
Who can help
Employment Standards Branch
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
Access Pro Bono’s Everyone Legal Clinic
Lawyer Referral Service
BC Legal Directory