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Sick day pay will be costly for B.C. school districts, says New Westminster board

Teachers on call and other unionized casual employees will now be entitled to five days of paid leave per year. So what will that do to school district budgets?
Teacher and student in COVID classroom
Teachers on call and other casual staffers will now be entitled to paid sick days with changes to B.C.'s Employment Standards Act – and the New West school district says that change could be costly.

A B.C. government move to expand paid illness and injury leave stands to be costly for the New Westminster school district.

Teachers on call and other unionized casual employees will now be entitled to five days of paid illness and injury leave, as per changes to the Employment Standards Act outlined in a bill introduced March 28.

That change will cost School District 40 about $270,000 a year, according to secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham. Ketcham told trustees the province has not provided any extra funding to school districts to cover those costs.

“It’s simply taking resources away from our existing budgets and priorities,” she said at the April 12 board meeting.

Robert Weston, the district’s executive director of human resources, said the issue is further complicated by the fact that leave provisions are based on calendar years and not on school years. Since each school year covers two calendar years, he said districts could end up with extra costs up front when casual employees are eligible for up to 10 days of leave within the first school year.

“It’s a big issue, and we’ll be monitoring it very closely as we continue through this pandemic recovery period,” he said.

Weston said the district still needs some clarity around who would be entitled to leave.

He said some cases are straightforward – for instance, when a teacher on call or casual staffer has been scheduled in advance, it’s clear they would be entitled to sick leave when required. What’s less clear, he noted, is what happens when a casual staffer is called in to work early in the morning but then calls in sick that same day.

Currently, Weston said, the advice the district has is that such absences would, in fact, be counted as sick days – meaning the district would have the costs of paying for the original absent employee, covering sick time for the on-call replacement, and then still finding a second on-call staffer to take the missing shift.

Trustee Maya Russell suggested the board write an advocacy letter to the B.C. government urging them to provide funding for the additional sick day requirements.

“I think it’s a principle we can all support, but it’s also very concerning that that needs to be funded,” she said.

Her suggestion found support from the majority of trustees, with Mary Lalji lodging the only vote in opposition.

Lalji said the problem isn’t isolated to school districts, pointing out that employers of all kinds are grappling with how to cover the costs paid illness and injury days.

“Maybe there’s another route that we can take,” she said. “I think writing a letter at this time might not be the best course of action.”'

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