Taking sick days

Myth or fact?

In BC, the law requires that workers be given time off when they're sick.
  • Myth
  • Fact

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.

Alert!

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some of the laws around taking sick days have been modified to help workers and employers cope. We’ve updated the information below to reflect changes as of May 31, 2021. 

What you should know

Your entitlement to taking sick days

Alert!

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the provincial government has introduced a three day, paid COVID-19 leave. You can take this leave if you’re unable to work because you have COVID-19, or for other coronavirus-related reasons. This leave is available until December 31, 2021. 

There is also 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.

In BC, there is now a law requiring that a worker be given time off when ill or injured. Over the course of a year, an employee can take up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave if they can't work due to personal illness or injury.

You must have been in the job for at least 90 days to qualify for this leave. And you must be covered by employment standards law (see who’s covered).

You may be entitled to more than this legal minimum, depending on the terms of your employment contractEvery 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)

Whether you get paid when you take a sick day

Alert!

The BC government has introduced a new three day, paid COVID-19 leave for workers who aren’t able to work because they have COVID-19, or for other coronavirus-related reasons. Your employer must pay you an average day’s pay for each day of leave you take.

There are no laws in BC requiring employers to give paid sick days. But many employers offer them 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.

“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

Whether you’re entitled to paid sick days will depend on the terms of your employment contract. If paid sick days are included in your 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).

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.

Alert!

During the coronavirus pandemic, the province is advising employers they can’t require a worker to provide a doctor’s note when taking a COVID-19 leave.

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 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.”

Your eligibility for insurance benefits

Alert!

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has made temporary changes to the EI program. You now need fewer hours to qualify. For the full list of changes, visit the federal government's website.

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 (EI) 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 15 weeks.

Work out problems

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. 

Tips for having a conversation with your employer

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 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 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. 

Common questions

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 the problem.”

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.

Who can help

If you have an issue with your employer around taking time off due to illness or injury, consider your options for free or low-cost legal advice.

  • Reviewed in May 2021
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 7 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Trevor Thomas, Ascent Employment Law

Trevor Thomas

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