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B.C. considers paid leave for victims of domestic, sexual violence

Last Updated Sep 1, 2019 at 10:25 pm PDT

Summary

Until May, 2019 there was no policy that protected workers who needed time off to deal with the fallout from violence

British Columbia and Alberta are the only provinces where this leave is entirely unpaid

On Friday, the provincial government launched a consultation on making this leave paid

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The province is asking British Columbians to weigh in on whether victims of domestic and sexual violence should get paid time off, like they do in almost all other provinces.

Until May, 2019 there was no policy that protected workers who needed time off to deal with the fallout from violence.

Now, workers who need to flee their homes, seek medical attention or counselling, or navigate the legal system are entitled to a short-term leave of ten days and a long-term leave of 15 weeks.

“You can’t be fired, laid off, punished for taking that time off. It’s protected leave,” according to BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk.

On Friday, the provincial government launched a consultation on making this leave paid.

“The labour movement is going to continue to press the government for paid leave in those situations, so that workers [who] need access to that leave are not financially struck,” Cronk says.

British Columbia and Alberta are the only provinces where this leave is unpaid. The other provinces offer between two and five days, and federal government employees also get paid time off.

The BC Federation of Labour, which represents 500,000 unionized workers, will be advocating for at least 10 days of paid leave.

It says paid leave isn’t just a labour rights issue, it’s a women’s rights issue.

“Providing paid leave is also an important step on the road to achieving gender equity. A shocking one-in-three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Women in B.C. still take home smaller paycheques than men with comparable education and training, and more than 50 per cent of single mothers in our province live in poverty,” it says in a release.

Mitzi Dean, B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, says providing time off is worth it for employers.

“I think there’s a benefit here for employers to make sure that we have productive and safe workers in our workforce,” Dean says. “We’re behind other jurisdictions in Canada, and that impacts our ability to retain staff, to offer a safe, protected environments.”

Dean says an online survey is part of the consultation and the province hopes to see responses from a wide range of people

The survey has six questions surrounding the topic of paid leave for survivors of abuse, including whether an employee should have to provide proof of domestic or sexual violence in order to take the paid leave.

Sonam Khangura with Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter says paid leave would make a difference for the women the organization works with.

“Financial reasons play a huge part in a woman leaving an abusive situation,” she says. “Especially in Vancouver’s housing crisis, women will stay because it’s so dire”

Khangura says women who are involved with family or criminal court need time to attend appointments and hearings, which almost always happen during business hours.

But many victims of violence don’t pursue legal action or seek medical attention, which is why the organization objects to any requirement for proof.

“Providing proof that you’re in a battering relationship is something I feel like will be very difficult to do. I don’t think women should be put in that position, to have to prove their abuse.”

With files from Ashley Burr and Martin MacMahon