Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children. Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people’s lives, including employment law. She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, AB. Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013, Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides. Photo: Contributed

Kootnekoff: Paid and protected leave proposed in B.C. for domestic violence victims

The legislative amendments will assist employees impacted by ‘domestic or sexual violence’

As International Women’s Day approaches, what better time to introduce legislative amendments to assist employees impacted by “domestic or sexual violence.”

For simplicity, I will refer to this as domestic abuse. If implemented, the amendments will also apply to employees whose children or dependents are impacted by domestic abuse. The amendments follow a consultation process and a 2018 British Columbia Law Institute report, recommending changes to the B.C. ESA.

As a result of 2019 legislative changes, section 52.5 of the ESA currently allows British Columbians to request unpaid leave up to 10 days per calendar year if the employee or another eligible person has been experiencing domestic abuse.

Employees are also entitled to up to 15 weeks more, if an employee or the employee’s child (or other eligible person) is experiencing domestic abuse.

The changes are set out in Bill 5 as proposed amendments to British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act (ESA). If implemented, they will allow for up to five days of paid leave plus five days of unpaid leave in situations of domestic abuse. This is in addition to a further 15 weeks of unpaid leave.

Under the proposed amendments, the leave is available to an employee who, or whose child under the age of 19 or whose dependent adult in the employee’s care, is facing domestic abuse.

The paid leave is for up to five days per calendar year. This is in addition to five days’ unpaid leave and up to a further 15 weeks of unpaid leave. These leaves can be taken consecutively or intermittently

Employees may take leave in any of the following circumstances:

  • To seek medical attention for a physical or psychological injury or disability caused by the domestic abuse;
  • To obtain victim or other social services relating to the domestic abuse;
  • To obtain psychological or other professional counselling for a psychological or emotional condition caused by the domestic abuse;
  • To temporarily or permanently relocate; or
  • To seek legal or law enforcement help or attend a civil or criminal proceeding related to the domestic abuse.

If the employer requests it, the employee must provide the employer with “reasonably sufficient proof in the circumstances that the employee is entitled to the leave. “

“Domestic or sexual violence” is defined to include:

  • physical abuse by an intimate partner or a family member, including forced confinement or deprivation of the necessities of life;
  • sexual abuse by anyone;
  • attempts to commit physical abuse by an intimate partner or by a family member, or sexual abuse by anyone;
  • psychological or emotional abuse by an intimate partner or by a family member, including:
  • intimidation, harassment, coercion or threats, including threats respecting other people, pets or property;
  • unreasonable restrictions on, or prevention of, financial or personal autonomy;
  • stalking or following;
  • intentional damage to property.

An employer who receives a request for this type of leave must also consider compliance with human rights, privacy and other laws.

If you are attempting to cope with one of the above situations, you may wish to gather what proof you can, before approaching your employer.

The proposed changes are not yet law. It is possible that the bill may be revised before being passed into law. Watch for further legislative developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Specialist advice from a qualified legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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