Original Article: Ashley Martin, Regina Leader-Post | Dec. 6, 2017
Advocates agree that the Saskatchewan government’s move to grant 10 days of unpaid leave from work to survivors of intimate partner violence is a step in the right direction.
“For us as front-line workers, any time that policy or government is even considering some of the barriers that the women we serve face, and how to talk about those barriers, it often feels like a huge win,” said Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, CEO of YWCA Regina.
Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan introduced the Saskatchewan Employment (Interpersonal Violence Leave) Amendment Act, which was passed Wednesday afternoon in the Legislative Assembly and is expected to receive Royal Assent on Thursday.
“I think when we acknowledge as employers that domestic violence is an event worthy of sick time … then women will be more apt potentially to look for support and come forward, that it’s not something that we just hide away or brush under the carpet,” added Coomber-Bendtsen.
In October, the Provincial Association of Transition Houses of Saskatchewan (PATHS) released a report considering intimate partner violence and the workplace.
It recommended the government legislate leave time for people fleeing abuse.
“We had many people who couldn’t go to counselling because they couldn’t get the time from work, people who missed court because they couldn’t get the time off work,” said Crystal Giesbrecht, PATHS’ director of research and communications.
“We are happy to see this acknowledgement.”
In 2015, Saskatchewan’s incidence of intimate partner violence was 2.25 times the national average for women, and 1.9 times the national average for men.
A Justice Ministry report from May 2017 found there were 48 domestic-related homicides and nine related suicides in Saskatchewan between 2005 and 2014.
The legislation will guarantee a maximum of 10 days of unpaid leave — without fear of losing their job — as they relocate or access services to cope with interpersonal (domestic) violence.
The employee is protected, whether violence is directed at the employee personally, or toward their children or dependents.
The leave can be taken in blocks of hours or days.
The worker must have been employed at least 13 weeks, and will have to provide evidence to their employer in order to qualify for the leave.
Employers must keep personal information confidential.
The legislation was introduced and passed with the Saskatchewan Party and NDP agreeing to fast-track the process.
“People need these supports yesterday,” said NDP Leader Nicole Sarauer.
However, she added, there are pieces missing, which a bill she introduced in April included: Five days of paid leave, which would catch Saskatchewan up to other provinces; a further period of unpaid leave up to 17 weeks, to be taken in a continuous period; an employer’s duty, if they suspect that a worker is experiencing violence at home, to protect that worker; and, allowing post-traumatic stress disorder as a reason for leave.
“When Saskatchewan is a province that has the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada, we should be at a minimum meeting the supports that other provinces have,” said Sarauer.
“The fact that it’s unpaid does mean that there still will be financial implications for individuals who are trying to leave abusive situations,” added Jo-Anne Dusel, PATHS’ executive director.
She said PATHS would continue to advocate for the aforementioned provisions.
Morgan said the government opted for unpaid leave because paid leave “puts the cost of that directly on the employer.”
He said he heard from business groups that paid leave “would be a disincentive for an employer to hire a woman,” which is “a troubling thing.”
Giesbrecht said intimate partner violence has a cost to Canadian employers of $8 million per year, and allowing people to take leave will reduce those costs.
In further steps, the government will be working with other jurisdictions to lobby the federal government to extend employment insurance benefits to survivors of interpersonal violence.
Also, the Justice Ministry is looking at implementing a targeted interpersonal violence disclosure process with Saskatchewan police and community organizations.
In the United Kingdom, this is known as Clare’s Law. The 2014 legislation was named for Clare Wood, a woman who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in February 2009.
Clare’s Law allows a partner, or a concerned family member or friend, to go to the police and request a person’s history of abusive behaviour.