The Canadian federal government has announced its intention to move forward with the proposal to provide federally-regulated employees with paid leave to manage situations stemming from domestic violence.
The Liberal government originally announced a 10-day unpaid leave in its 2017 budget, but has improved upon the promise in the 2018 budget by earmarking half of those days as paid leave. The government plans to conduct consultations with stakeholders, employers and unions this fall on the proposed benefit.
New Zealand made international news earlier this year by becoming only the second country in the world, after the Philippines, to pass nation-wide legislation providing paid leave from employment for victims of domestic violence. Canada will soon join these ranks.
The current proposal would allow domestic violence victims to take up to 10 days off from work, with five of them paid. The leave is intended to allow victims to deal with issues arising from domestic violence, which may include time to leave their abusive partners and find new lodging, involve the police, seek medical treatment, or obtain legal advice.
Such changes would amend the current Canada Labour Code though it may take up to two years to see these changes implemented into law. This Code governs federally regulated businesses across the country would affect close to 900,000 employees throughout Canada in a wide range of industries.
The federal announcement comes after several provinces have already provided for paid domestic violence leave in recent years.
For instance, in Ontario, domestic or sexual violence leave is a job-protected leave of absence. Employees are entitled to up to 10 days and 15 weeks a year of domestic or sexual violence leave. The first five days of leave taken in a calendar year are paid, and the rest are unpaid.
Section 49.7 of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act specifically provides that if the employee or a child of the employee experiences domestic or sexual violence, or the threat of domestic or sexual violence, the leave of absence may be taken for any of the following purposes:
- To seek medical attention for the employee or the child of the employee in respect of a physical or psychological injury or disability caused by the domestic or sexual violence;
- To obtain services from a victim services organization for the employee or the child of the employee;
- To obtain psychological or other professional counselling for the employee or the child of the employee;
- To relocate temporarily or permanently; and/or
- To seek legal or law enforcement assistance, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or resulting from the domestic or sexual violence.
Other provinces have already implemented similar benefits in their employment standards legislation, including Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Additional provinces have recently announced their intention to begin providing such benefits to employees, including New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
As of now, British Columbia, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories have not announced any upcoming legislative changes surrounding the issue. However, as the federal government moves forward with its plan, it can be expected that more provinces and territories will turn their minds to introducing similar benefits in the future.
Impact of legislation
While domestic violence statistics are difficult to establish, due to under-reporting and other issues, employers and employees alike must become familiar with these changes in legislation as there may be an increase in domestic violence leave requests as their availability becomes more widely known.
These changes are intended to provide domestic violence victims with greater support and resources by removing some fears surrounding financial and employment repercussions while taking a leave from work as they deal with these situations. It is also hoped that this legislation will remove some of the stigma surrounding such issues.
Employers must be aware of their obligations to provide leave to employees who request it for such purposes. Employees should familiarize themselves with the notice they are required to provide their employer before taking such leave, as well as the possibility that an employer may request evidence to support the leave.
If you have questions about paid leave for domestic violence, other types of paid and unpaid leave, or other employee rights, contact the offices of Campbell Bader LLP. Many people are unaware of what rights they have to take leave. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of employment issues as well as providing a full range of other legal services. Contact us online or by phone at 905 828 2247 to schedule a consultation.