'Long overdue': New Brunswick considers domestic violence leave
Gallant government proposes amendments to Employment Standards Act
The Gallant government is proposing amendments to the New Brunswick Employment Standards Act that would allow workers experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence to take leave to deal with related issues, such as seeking medical attention, legal assistance or a new place to live.
The proposed changes would also provide job protection for people who leave work to care for a family member, announced Labour, Employment and Population Growth Minister Gilles LePage on Monday.
"It is essential that New Brunswick's employment standards legislation be continually modernized to maintain a competitive labour market and keep up with the needs of employers and employees," LePage said in a statement.
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"Introducing leave provisions for persons experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence would align the province with Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan, while updating unpaid leave protections in the Employment Standards Act would reflect recent changes to the federal government's Employment Insurance Act."
The department will "reach out to targeted stakeholders in the next few weeks" to seek their input, said spokeswoman Stéphanie Bilodeau.
Leave should be with pay
Patrick Colford, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, called the move "wonderful" and "long overdue."
The federation has been lobbying for domestic violence leave for at least eight years, he said.
It wants to see paid leave for up to 10 days, which could be taken intermittently or consecutively, said Colford.
"Other provinces have such provisions and it seems to work for them," he said.
There shouldn't be any limitation on them from having the time off to seek the help that they need.- Patrick Colford, N.B. Federation of Labour
"It's a good place to start and it will ensure that people are able to get out of these situations and not be held hostage, so to speak, by a violent or abusive partner."
It would allow them time to find a new home, change their banking information, obtain support services — "all the things that it takes to basically start over" — without the risk of losing pay.
If the leave is unpaid, the victim of abuse might not be able to afford to leave, said Colford. The abuser might also notice if their partner has missed days without pay, which could lead to questions and more abuse, he said.
Colford contends the leave should be available to both full-time and part-time employees, regardless of how long they've worked for the employer.
"Intimate partner violence doesn't only affect people who have full-time stable jobs," he said. "I think if, at the end of the day, if people are in these abusive situations and have an opportunity to get away, there shouldn't be any limitation on them from having the time off to seek the help that they need."
Consultation is critical
The New Brunswick Women's Council was not given a heads-up about the proposed amendments, said executive director Beth Lyons.
But the independent body, whose mandate includes providing advice to the government on matters of importance to women, promoting the equality of women and girls in New Brunswick, and bringing attention to issues of interest and concern to women, is "very eager" to participate in the consultations, she said.
"This is one of the areas that I think the consultation is going to be really important is to see exactly what is useful to survivors in the New Brunswick context and making sure this amendment, and the regulations that accompany it, will reflect those."
Officials from emergency shelters, second-stage housing and employment programs, for example, will be able to provide the "critical" expertise and "on-the-ground reality perspective," said Lyons.
Work provides support network
Although the council hasn't taken an official position on the proposed amendments, Lyons described domestic violence leave as a "promising issue" and "part of a larger trend recognizing the supports and often legal protection that survivors of violence need."
Being able to maintain employment is important to people leaving violent relationships, as well as those living in violent relationships for reasons beyond the obvious financial ones, she said.
"It's about ensuring continued access to a support network. Survivors of violence have often been isolated by their abusive partner. Their friends, their family may have been alienated," said Lyons.
"Work can be a place where you have people who are seeing you regularly, notice differences in you, [and] are able to check in on your safety."