VICTORIA -- The B.C. government is extending the maximum allowable length of temporary layoffs in the province from 13 weeks to 16 weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The B.C. Ministry of Labour announced the change Monday in an effort to keep employees connected with their jobs during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Previously, under the Employment Standards Act, a temporary layoff lasting longer than 13 weeks out of a 20-week period would have been considered a permanent layoff. With a permanent layoff, employers are required to provide workers with written notice of termination and severance pay for those who qualify.

Under the new rules, temporary layoffs can last as long as 16 weeks, during which time the employee can hold onto their job.

The province says the change aligns B.C.’s temporary layoff rules with the federal Canada Emergency Response Benefit period, which provides 16 weeks of financial support, allowing employees to take full advantage of those benefits.

The ministry says these layoff provisions are not intended to be permanent and will be repealed when no longer needed.