Original Article: Maham Abedi, Global News | Aug. 5, 2018
A few paid days off from work can change — or even save — lives.
That’s the message behind a new law that New Zealand passed in late July, granting domestic violence survivors paid days off work, and giving them the opportunity to restart their lives.
The Domestic Violence-Victims’ Protection Bill was approved with a vote of 63-57 by the country’s members of Parliament. It gives domestic violence survivors, as well as those caring for young victims of violence, 10 paid days off work.
The time is in addition to paid vacation and sick days.
The bill was introduced by lawmaker Jan Logie, who was in tears as it passed.
The change was also hailed across the world by advocates, many of whom suggested other countries follow suit.
New Zealand is the second to create such laws; the Philippines was the first in 2004.
Unlike New Zealand, the federal government in Canada doesn’t have the ability to give workers across the country 10 paid days of leave with one piece of legislation.
“Our picture is much more complex,” Western University professor Barb MacQuarrie told Global News.
MacQuarrie, who works with the university’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children, explained that falls into provincial jurisdiction.
“We’ve got a real patchwork in Canada of legislation, but we are starting to see this wave, this groundswell of support across the country of the idea that survivors of domestic violence require leave.”
A look at Canada’s ‘patchwork’ of legislation
Several provinces in Canada, such as Manitoba and Ontario, already provide five days of paid leave for domestic violence survivors.
Some provinces have paid leave but fewer days, and some also have unpaid but job-protected leave.
“Making sure that leave is paid is really important, for some survivors economic autonomy, economic independence is that factor that determines whether they can stay or whether they can leave,” MacQuarrie said.
In general, there has been an overall acknowledgement that more work protection is needed for individuals who experience domestic violence, she added.
Recently, for example, Prince Edward Island amended its Employment Standards Act to provide up to three days of paid leave and seven days of unpaid leave for survivors of domestic, intimate partner and sexual violence.
The Trudeau government has also stipulated plans in the budget to amend the Canada Labour Code to give federal government workers five days paid leave.
In an email statement to Global News, Minister of Labour Patty Hajdu’s press secretary Veronique Simard reiterated the plans.
“Updating the Canada Labour Code to give victims job-protection is one way we can support them, but this alone isn’t enough; our government is also investing nearly $200M in the first-ever Federal Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.”
But plans surrounding exactly how and when the paid leave will kick in remain unclear.
Making sure paid leave is actually helpful
When legislation in New Zealand was passed, Logie stressed that while domestic violence is personal, it cannot be completely separated from work life.
“Domestic violence doesn’t respect that split between work and life. A huge amount of research tells us a large number of abusive partners bring the violence into the workplace,” said Logie.
“And some of that is about trying to break their attachment to their job to get them fired or get them to quit so they are more dependent on their partner,” she added.
That’s why MacQuarrie explained that it’s so important workplaces address the issue of domestic violence, rather than treating it as something that’s off-limits and cannot be discussed at work.
But that still has to be done in a respectful, private manner.
“Nobody’s saying that employers all of a sudden have become social workers and therapists,” MacQuarrie said.
“But we are expecting that employers will work closely with community-based experts to provide safety planning, risk assessment and strategies to keep the whole workplace safe.”
There’s also the “burden of proof” survivors may face when taking the paid leave.
MacQuarrie said individuals taking paid leave shouldn’t need to provide extensive proof that they are in a dangerous situation — it can be anything from a police report to a doctor’s note.
She said the definition of proof should remain “broad.”
Manitoba’s legislation, for example, reads that “reasonable verification” from an employee can vary from case to case.
Rebuilding, recovering after domestic violence
While 10 paid days off work may not seem like a lot to many, MacQuarrie says they are quite substantial for many facing violence.
“Ten days really gives a measure of security to survivors who may need to engage in the criminal process, get medical attention, support services or mental health services, or may have to move.”
But the 10 days are likely just the beginning of a long journey.
Numerous studies show the effects of domestic violence can last much longer.
Research by the University of Montreal shows heightened risks of mental health problems, such as depression, for women who are physically abused.
The 2015 study, titled “Impact of domestic violence on women’s mental health,” found that depression was twice as likely in such women.
Domestic violence by the numbers in Canada
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, every six days a Canadian woman dies after facing violence by an intimate partner. Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians say they know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse.
According to Statistics Canada, 26 per cent of violent crime victims in 2016 were abused by a family member. Women and girls were more likely to be victims of family violence at 67 per cent.
Stats Canada also references intimate-partner violence, in which it defines intimate partners as those who are legally married, separated or divorced, current or former common-law partners or dating, or any other intimate partner.
It explains that such violence is generally under-reported so statistics may underestimate its occurrence.
According to the government agency’s 2016 data, of the 93,247 victims who reported violence by an intimate partner that year, 79 per cent were women.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. For mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here.