Changes to BC Employment Standards Act Will Protect Young Workers

Authors: Negina Khalil, Alizeh Virani, Lynsey Gaudin

Amendments to the Employment Standards Act in British Columbia (the “ESA”) will come into force on October 15, 2021. The changes include raising the general working age in British Columbia from 12 to 16 years of age, and defining the types of jobs appropriate for those under the age of 16.

These changes will bring British Columbia in line with international standards for youth employment. Prior to these changes, British Columbia was the only province in Canada with a working age of 12. In some cases, this placed young workers in hazardous environments such as construction sites or heavy-industry settings. WorkSafeBC reported more than $1.1 million paid in job-related disability claims for workers 14 years of age or younger between 2007 and 2016. The Province plans to announce further regulatory changes later this year to define “hazardous work” for those between the ages of 16 to 18.

With permission from a parent or guardian, young workers aged 14 and 15 will be able to take on many appropriate jobs, defined as “light work.”  Youth aged 14 and 15 may also be permitted to do work outside the definition of light work with a permit from the Ministry of Labour’s Employment Standards Branch.

Examples of light work appropriate for young workers aged 14 and 15 include:

  • recreation and sports club work such as lifeguard, coach, golf caddy, camp counsellor, referee and umpire;
  • light farm and yard work such as gardening, harvesting by hand, clearing leaves and snow, and grass cutting;
  • administrative and secretarial work;
  • retail work such as stocking shelves, packaging orders, laying out displays, sales and cashier;
  • food service work such as busing tables, preparing food, dishwashing and serving food and non-alcoholic drinks; and
  • skilled and technical work such as computer programmer, visual artists, graphic designer, writer and editor.

Under the new rules, youth can still continue babysitting or delivering newspapers part time, or working in a work study or work experience class. The current rules will also continue to apply to young performers in recorded and live entertainment. Additionally, youth aged 12 and above can continue to be employed in a business or on a farm owned by an immediate family member, if the work meets the safety criteria set out in part 7.1 of the Employment Standards Regulation.

The province has also narrowed the employment standards exclusion for home-care workers and babysitters who provide care to an adult or a child in a private residence. This ensures that caregivers who provide care averaging more than 15 hours per week will be protected under the ESA, while those providing in-home care and babysitting services for fewer hours can continue to work under more flexible arrangements.

Employers considering how the changes to the ESA will apply to their business should contact a member of our labour and employment team in Vancouver.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.