After being pressured this week by the B.C. Liberals, the NDP minority government has made a significant change to employment standards.
Labour Minister Harry Bains announced that "temporary layoffs" can now last for a maximum of 24 weeks, expiring on August 30.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers could only issue temporary layoffs for a maximum of 13 weeks over any 20-week period.
In early May, that was extended to 16 weeks, at which point the classification would revert to permanent layoff.
Under permanent layoffs, workers must receive a written working notice of termination or severance pay.
Now with the period extended to 24 weeks, businesses might not be forced to make severance payments for an additional eight weeks, giving them more time to recover from the loss of revenue during the pandemic.
However, there's a catch—it requires an employer to reach an agreement with more than half the workers on temporary layoffs.
Then they must file a joint application to the Employment Standards Branch.
"Employers who are not able to return to full operations and need additional time can do so with agreement from their employees, but we expect those employees will be recalled when operations have resumed," Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a government news release. "We heard loud and clear from employers that they need this extension.
"We also know it is important to ensure that workers know that they have to be involved in the agreement with the employer to extend the temporary layoff and have a right to decline the layoff and accept the compensation for length of service which they are entitled to.”
The B.C. Liberals argued that the province should change the definition of "temporary layoff" in the Employment Standards Act from 16 to 28 weeks, something the NDP has refused to do.
The B.C. Liberal labour critic, John Martin, took credit for his party's role in bringing about the new policy.
“For weeks, small businesses and nonprofits in every corner of our province have pleaded with John Horgan to extend temporary layoff time limits that, if not addressed, would have triggered thousands of permanent job losses and business bankruptcies,” Martin said in a news release. “It’s outrageous that it took John Horgan and the NDP this long to acknowledge the severity of the situation and do something. Their inaction created needless uncertainty for thousands of already-struggling businesses and workers.”