Driving change: B.C.’s Bill 48 provides clarity to gig economy

Blue Staircase

As the weather warms up and more individuals look to transition to their summer jobs, gig economy workers and providers of gig work platforms should be aware of the changes to the Employment Standards Act (the ESA) and the Workers Compensation Act (the WCA) as a result of British Columbia’s Bill 48: Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2023 (the Act), which received royal assent on November 30, 2023.

There has long been confusion as to the legal standards that apply to gig economy workers, including the question as to whether these workers are subject to the provisions of the ESA and WCA. Bill 48 attempts to provide some clarity to the gig economy by providing a definition for such workers as “online platform workers,” which includes all workers who accept and perform prescribed work through an online platform.

As a result of the amendments in the Act, online platform workers now will be considered to be “workers” and “employees” for the purposes of the WCA and the ESA respectively. These amendments will have a significant impact on both the gig economy and the B.C. economy in general as, according to a government news release, there are approximately 11,000 ride-hailing drivers and 27,000 food delivery workers in the province employed across 21 ride-hailing companies and seven food delivery platforms.

Worker’s compensation coverage

Effective as of November 30, 2023, an online platform worker is considered to be a worker for purposes of the WCA. Bill 48 amends the WCA by clarifying that online platform workers are to be considered workers for the purposes of the WCA and operators of the online platform will likewise be employers. The key implications of these amendments are

  • online platforms are now required to comply with B.C.’s occupational health and safety regime such as
    • meeting registration requirements 
    • reporting requirements, and 
    • paying premiums to WorkSafeBC
  • online platform workers are now eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, such as rehabilitation services for work-related injuries, diseases, and mental health disorders.

Bill 48 also provides that the Lieutenant Governor may make further regulations regarding online platform workers, including with regard to prescribing the nature of work that will constitute “prescribed work.”

Employment standards

Similar to the amendments to the WCA, Bill 48 amends the ESA such that online platform workers are employees pursuant to the ESA, and the operators of such platforms will be considered employers. However, these amendments will come into force at a later date by regulation of the Lieutenant Governor. Guidance released by the B.C. government states the regulations will address:

  • Minimum wage: creating a minimum earning standard to align the time a worker spends on an assignment with B.C.’s minimum wage
  • Expenses: establishing a new compensation standard to recognize personal expenses for workers such as vehicle costs
  • Tip protections: prohibiting online platform companies from withholding or making deductions from tips
  • Pay transparency: requiring online platform companies to transparently display the earnings associated with an offered assignment
  • Destination transparency: requiring online platform companies to provide all pickup and delivery locations for each assignment
  • Suspensions and terminations: requiring online platform companies to provide reasons for suspension or deactivation of a worker’s account, provide a review process, and give written notice or compensation for length of service unless there is just cause for termination

In its guidance, the B.C. government has stated that it does not currently plan to introduce regulations relating to hours of work, overtime, statutory holidays, paid leaves, and annual vacation, but will continue to monitor these areas.

Bill 48 introduces significant changes to how the gig economy functions, particularly as it may impose new requirements on operators that were not previously well defined. Employers who operate such platforms should monitor the changes, particularly to the ESA, and seek guidance on how to ensure compliance. As of the date of this publication, there have been no updates on the regulations which will represent the next major step in advancing gig worker protections, and consequently increased compliance requirements on employers.