Summary of Recent Changes to Workplace Laws in BC

By Colin Edstrom
Categories: Blog, Employment Law

British Columbia has had a new provincial government since July 2017. Over the past 10 months, the John Horgan government has revised or sought to revise various workplace laws affecting employers and employees in British Columbia. This blog post highlights some of those revisions.

Employer Health Tax

A new a payroll tax dubbed the “employer health tax” will take effect on January 1, 2019, to offset the loss in revenue from medical service plan (MSP) premiums which are being phased out. The tax will apply incrementally to companies with payrolls over $500,000, increasing at $250,000 intervals. The below chart summarizes the impact of the new tax on businesses.

Annual BC Payroll Annual Tax Tax as a percent of Payroll
  $500,000 or less $0      0.00%
  $750,000 $7,313      0.98%
  $1,000,000 $14,625      1.46%
  $1,250,000 $21,938      1.76%
  $1,500,000 $29,950      1.95%
  over $1,500,000 $29,250 plus 1.95% of payroll over $1.5 million      1.95%

Notably, MSP premiums are not being phased out until 2020. This means that employers who cover the cost of MSP premiums may have to pay both the cost of premiums and the new tax in 2019.

Leaves of Absence

A bill expanding the leave provisions of the Employment Standards Act became law on May 17, 2018.

The most notable change is that pregnancy and parental leave periods are being expanded to allow new mothers to take upwards of 18 months of leave total. Pregnancy leave and parental leave are two separate leaves of absence that are commonly referred to singularly as “maternity leave”. Presently, new mothers are entitled to a “maternity leave” of up to 12 months encompassing both pregnancy leave and parental leave. The amendment aligns British Columbia with federal legislation permitting mothers to collect employment insurance for 18 months. Non-birth and adoptive parents will be entitled to a leave of up to 15 months.

Compassionate care leave is expanding from 8 weeks to 27 weeks. Compassionate care leave is available to employees who provide care or support to a family member facing a medical condition with a significant risk of death.

The government has also introduced the following new leave provisions:

  • Child Death Leave – parents of a child who dies before his/her 19th birthday are entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 104 weeks; and
  • Crime-related Child Disappearance Leave – parents of a child who disappears because of a crime are entitled to an unpaid leave of 52 weeks.

Labour Relations Code

The government has commissioned a committee of three persons to review and make recommendations with respect to the Labour Relations Code. The committee is engaging stakeholders and expected to complete its report in August 2018, following which the government will likely revise the laws governing unionized workplaces.

Workers Compensation Act

The Workers Compensation Act was amended on May 17, 2018, to make it easier for first responders to receive mental health support arising from injuries at the workplace. First responders who are exposed to traumatic events are now presumed to have suffered mental disorders arising from their work. This presumption is rebuttable; however, unlike other workers, first responders who witness traumatic events do not have to prove that a mental disorder was caused by the nature of the work on a balance of probabilities.

Minimum Wage Increase

The minimum wage is increasing by 34% over 4 years as outlined in an earlier blog post. At the time of our earlier blog post, the increase in minimum wage did not affect alternate wage earners including workers who serve alcohol; however, the government recently announced plans to increase the minimum wage to include these workers. According to the Ministry of Labour website, wages for the five worker groups currently subject to alternate minimum wage rates will change as follows:

  • Liquor servers – incremental increases on June 1 each year, beginning June 2018, until the general minimum wage is reached, of at least $15.20 per hour, in 2021.
  • Piece-rate farm workers – 11.5% increase to all piece rates on January 1, 2019, with further study to take place.
  • Resident caretakers – 11.5% increase June 2018, followed by increases of 9.5%, 5.4% and 4.1% in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively (wages vary depending on building size).
  • Live-in camp leaders – same per cent increases as resident caretakers, until they reach $121.65/per day, in 2021.
  • Live-in home-support workers – abolishment of the alternate minimum wage for this group, as it covers very few or no workers. The general minimum wage will apply to any workers remaining in this category.

Given the changes highlighted in this blog post, employers are encouraged to make appropriate plans to absorb increased business costs.