B.C. introduces 5-day employer-paid leave for domestic and sexual assault survivors
VANCOUVER -- After a sexual or physical assault, the last thing a survivor might want to think about is showing up to work, or getting fired. Yet, those who support survivors say that can often be a concern.
Sarah Thomas, with the Aboriginal Mothers Centre says she's known several employees who have either lost their jobs because they needed time off after trauma, or were unable to pay the bills when they didn't get paid for it.
"One of the biggest reasons women don't leave is because of financial reasons," echoed Maura Gowans who is the interim executive director for the centre.
The two women applauded the government's move to change the employment standards act and provide survivors, who are mostly women, with five days of paid leave when faced with sexual or domestic violence. Indigenous women are overrepresented in those statistics.
"Many women don't come forward," added Gowans. "Many women, especially Indigenous women, don’t believe in the system, so it'll allow them the chance to come forward and feel a little bit more supported."
Labour Minister Harry Bains introduced a bill Tuesday to amend the Employment Standards Act and provide the paid leave. Both the Liberals and Greens say they'll support it. The change comes after a public consultation found more than 90 per cent of respondents supported such a leave.
"No police report is required, none of that type of documentation is required, most employers are good, they recognize the need," said Bains at a news conference announcing the changes.
Bains also said there was no specific definition of domestic or sexual violence. He added if there was any dispute about whether an employee was eligible for the leave, it could be resolved through employment standards.
As of 2019, employees can access up to 10 days of unpaid leave, plus up to 15 weeks of non-consecutive unpaid leave.
Once the bill passes – Alberta will be the only province not requiring paid leave.
While it's widely acknowledged that domestic and sexual violence are prevalent issues, Bains said other jurisdictions with similar leave have found few people actually use it.
"Even if the uptake is slow to begin with, the leave is there for people when they need it and it would be at a critical time," said Mitzi Dean, who is the parliamentary secretary for gender equity.
Dean added addressing gender-based violence is a priority for the government. As a social worker she's been confronted with the issues.
"I came to work on a Monday morning," she recounted. "One of my young woman team members came to me, she was disoriented, she was tearful, she was distracted…she was distraught."
Dean said she sat the woman down and had a conversation with her to find out she had been date raped that weekend. Despite needing time to heal, Dean said the young woman was at work.
"We were able to say to her, take the time, and now with this bill all employers will be able to say that to people."