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Employment & Labour, Human Rights

Manitoba law offering leave to domestic violence victims could spur national trend

new Manitoba law that allows victims of domestic violence paid and unpaid leave from work is a positive move that recognizes the need to protect workers who are seeking safety from abusers, says Vancouver employment lawyer Richard Johnson.

The law, which received royal assent last month, puts Manitoba at the forefront in terms of providing specific protections for victims of domestic abuse, says Johnson, associate atKent Employment Law.

The legislation gives victims five paid days off work, five unpaid days and an additional 17-week unpaid period, if a victim needs to flee and find a new place to live, the Globe and Mail reports.

similar bill passed second reading in Ontario in March that would offer 10 days of paid leave, as well as some unpaid leave and the opportunity for flexible work arrangements for victims of sexual or domestic violence. The New Brunswick Union is pushing for similar legislation in that province, CBC reports.

“It's a good example of the law keeping up with the realities of everyday life,” Johnson tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Domestic violence is not isolated to a specific jurisdiction, so it's a fantastic move to recognize that there's a need for leave for people in domestic violence situations.”

Many provinces may already pose some protections under employment standards acts, Johnson says.

For example, Section 52 of British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act provides for five days of unpaid family responsibility leave. While it is a start, Johnson says he expects other provinces to follow Manitoba and legislate more unpaid or paid leave time for domestic violence victims.

Johnson says it’s important to note that domestic violence can impact both men and women.

“The immediate instinct is to imagine the woman leaving with the children but it's not always the case,” he says, adding both men and women may find some arguable protections under human rights legislation.

In B.C., the Human Rights Code stipulates someone can't discriminate based on family status or sex.

“In the traditional sense, a woman who must leave the house because of domestic violence could claim she's entitled to accommodation from her employer under sex, but that's not clear cut,” Johnson says. “These days, the stronger grounds for someone dealing with a domestic violence issue could arguably be under the family status grounds in human rights legislation.”

The employer can't discriminate against their employee based on them being in a same-sex relationship or being a man who's facing domestic violence rather than a woman, Johnson says.

“He gets protection from discrimination. The employer cannot treat a man facing domestic violence any differently than a woman, nor can the employer discriminate because the domestic relationship is same-sex," he says.

One ground to approach these issues under the current B.C. law is family status, Johnson says.

"It is conceivable that an employee could say: 'There's violence and I need accommodation for that, which is unpaid leave.' And that should be accommodated regardless of the type of relationship at issue." 

Johnson says that accommodation on the basis of family status is not clear cut, however, so the new legislation out of Manitoba and Ontario is promising.

“Sometimes we rely on the morality and the good nature of the employer, but that hasn't always worked,” he says, adding that is why employment standards and human rights legislation must protect workers when their employers don’t.

Proponents of such leaves argue they make good economic sense for employers, since domestic violence decreases productivity and increases lateness and absenteeism, the Globe reports.

Johnson, who represents employees as well as employers in his practice, says he could understand if some employers are concerned the legislation would impact their right to effectively manage their employees.

“The law needs to have adequate safeguards so it’s not abused," he says.

He expects notes from doctors, counsellors or police reports could act as appropriate documentation to back up a worker’s request for leave.

 

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