Paid COVID-19 vaccine leave receives royal assent

On April 27, 2021, Bill 3: Leave for COVID-19 Vaccination received royal assent. As we first reported, this legislation was introduced on April 19, 2021, with the intention of amending the Employment Standards Act to provide employees up to three hours of paid leave from work to receive each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Bill 3 passed through the Legislative Assembly without amendment, and accordingly will apply retroactively to all eligible vaccine leave requests from April 19, 2021 onward.

The legislation provides a maximum entitlement of three hours paid leave, but not an automatic entitlement to the full three hours. During the legislative debate, Minister Bains clarified that it remains a matter of management discretion to determine what amount of paid time off is reasonable in the circumstances. In most instances, it is expected employees and employers will be able to work together to determine the appropriate amount of time off considering the travelling time to the vaccine clinic from the workplace. Employees requiring more than three hours off work to obtain their COVID-19 vaccine would be eligible for the unpaid COVID-19 vaccine leave provided for under the Employment Standards Act.

The legislative debates also provide additional clarity on the types of documentation that constitute “reasonably sufficient proof” that the employee is entitled to the paid leave. The text of the legislation expressly states that an employer cannot require a medical note to satisfy this requirement, but Minister Bains clarified in debate that it may take the form of an email or text message confirmation of a vaccine appointment, or the vaccination card the individual receives at the end of the appointment confirming the vaccination took place.

Notably, Bill 3 does not provide any limit on the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses an employee can utilize this paid leave for. While the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in Canada require two doses to be fully effective, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose and is expected to be available in Canada soon.

Based upon the commentary at the Legislative Assembly, it is expected that paid COVID-19 vaccine leave will apply to all required doses of the vaccines, as determined by public health, which would presumably include “booster” doses of the vaccines as those become available.

The legislation will remain in effect until repealed by an order of the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact Sari Wiens, Ilan Burkes, Nicole Toye or Jessica Fairbairn.