Victims of domestic violence in Saskatchewan will soon be entitled to up to 10 days off work, but none of them will be paid days off.
"It puts the cost of that directly on the employer," said Justice Minister Don Morgan. "The recommendation that came forward from some of the employer groups was this would be a disincentive for an employer to hire a woman."
Morgan said he does not agree with that notion and it had no bearing on the government's decision.
A representative from the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, Lori Johb, was stunned by that news.
"That was pretty shocking to hear that," she said, after the minister's comments. "I'm still trying to process if that actually happened because it's troubling to think that that would even cross somebody's mind."
Getting time off work for domestic violence victims is one of the measures the Opposition and the Provincial Association of Transition Houses of Saskatchewan had been asking the government to provide.
The Sask. NDP had called for half of the 10 days to be paid.
"We've heard that the paid days are incredibly necessary," said Nicole Sarauer, interim leader of the Sask. NDP. "They need that money."
On Wednesday, the government introduced legislation to provide for unpaid days off. With support from the Opposition, it was able to pass in a single day.
It says the leave is to be used for things such as to seek medical attention, go to court or to move.
To be eligible, employees must have worked for at least 13 weeks and will be required to provide evidence of the services being received, if asked, in order to qualify for the leave.
The legislation also requires employers to keep personal information confidential.
The government says it is also considering a new program with police that would allow a person to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence.
Saskatchewan would be the first province to enact such a disclosure process, modelled after "Clare's Law" in the United Kingdom.
That initiative is named after an English woman, Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.
Leave is 'much needed'
Crystal Giesbrecht, with the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), said a protected leave was one of the recommendations from those who were interviewed for their recent report on domestic violence.
"It's something we've been advocating for so I'm glad to see the government putting this into place," she said. "I know that this is very much needed and wanted."
Many domestic violence victims said even just a few hours off work, without the risk of losing their job, might help them in their situation.
Giesbrecht said keeping their employment is an asset to those facing intimate partner violence. Not only does it offer financial security, it also breaks the isolation they often face and gives them a chance to contact services.
"If someone loses the job because of the intimate partner violence then they might be more isolated and there is far less chance that they will be able to leave," she said.
Although it's a start, Giesbrecht said some victims still won't take the time off because the leave is unpaid. That's something she hopes will change in the future.
She doesn't think the legislation will affect hiring decisions and said supporting people and keeping them in their jobs is far better economically for employers.
"When we know that the cost in Canada to employers due to intimate partner violence is over $88 million a year, giving these leaves is going to be just a fraction of that."