COVID-19 and the Courts

BC’s courts are closed. How will this affect your legal matter? Read on to find out.

Operations suspended

As you have likely already heard, last month the British Columbia Supreme Court suspended regular court operations to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Initially, the Court suspended all civil (and family) matters that were scheduled to be heard between March 19 and May 1, 2020.

On April 16, the Court extended this suspension through to May 29. However, the Court has also announced that it will allow parties to schedule hearings by way of telephone conference for non-urgent matters that were adjourned due to the suspension period.

If you are unsure whether your matter qualifies for telephone hearings, you can visit this link for more information.

Limitation periods suspended

If you wish to start a legal action, you must do within a certain period of time. These legal deadlines are known as limitation periods. If you fail to bring your claim within the prescribed limitation period, then you may have lost your opportunity to pursue your legal rights.

Under normal circumstances, BC’s Limitation Act provides a basic limitation period of two years for most court actions. In the employment law context, many claims are subject to this basic limitation period, including claims for wrongful dismissal and harassment.

However, due to COVID-19, on March 26, 2020, the province suspended every “mandatory limitation period” as well as “any other mandatory time period” within which a civil (or family) claim must be brought. As a result, limitation periods under the BC Limitation Act have been suspended until further notice (likely until BC’s state of emergency has been lifted). This means that the duration of the province’s suspension will not count towards calculating the expiration of limitation periods.

Here’s an example to help illustrate how this works:

  • An employee is wrongfully dismissed on October 1, 2018. The limitation period for this claim is normally two years, which means that the employee has until October 1, 2020 to start legal action against their employer.
  • On March 26, 2020, this two year period was suspended. If the province lifts this suspension on May 26, this means that the suspension was 60 days long, and therefore that the employee’s limitation period is extended by 60 days, which means the employee will have until December 1, 2020 to file their claim.

Claims still allowed

It’s important to keep in mind that even though court operations and limitation periods are on hold, it is still possible to file a legal action via the courts’ electronic filing system. If you have an employment law claim that you wish to pursue, we encourage you to reach out to us to discuss your options.

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