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New Manitoba law grants time off work for domestic-abuse victims

Amendment to standards code grants both paid and unpaid leave


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Government of Manitoba has recently amended the province’s Employment Standards Code to allow victims of domestic violence to have leave from work — both paid and unpaid — with guaranteed job security during the time off.

First proposed publicly at the Manitoba legislature late last year (COHSN, Nov. 24) and introduced officially as Bill 8 less than two weeks later, The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence, Leave for Serious Injury or Illness and Extension of Compassionate Care Leave) grants domestic-violence victims up to five days of paid leave, five days of unpaid leave and up to 17 consecutive weeks of additional unpaid leave.

Employees who have been with a company for at least 90 days and who claim to have suffered from domestic violence can use the time off for medical attention, victim services, counselling, relocation and/or legal assistance, according to the legislation text, which is available on the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba website.

Manitoba government representatives could not comment on the new legislation, due to a publication ban that went into effect after a provincial election was called on March 16. Media reports have stated that the Employment Standards Code amendment was passed into law on March 3 and received royal assent on March 15.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) has been a strong supporter of Bill 8 from the start. MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky told COHSN that she was “absolutely thrilled” that the bill had become law.

“This’ll be a win all the way around for employers as much as employees,” said Gawronsky. “As an employee, when you’re in that situation, you’re trying to keep the secrets and trying to keep everything hidden. You’re not in tune to your job and your duties as much as you could be, because you’re constantly worrying about what’s going on.

“So when your employer has the ability to give you the time needed to get your life set up and get your life in order and make sure that everything is safe, you go back into work and you can give 110 per cent of yourself.”

For Gawronsky, the passing of Bill 8 was a personal victory as well as a political one. Both she and her mother had experienced situations in which they had had to take time off work to flee abusive partners. But Gawronsky’s workplace turned out to be far more sympathetic.

“I had an employer that was very, very supportive, valued me as an employee and gave me the time that I needed,” she explained. “Most abusers think they’re keeping a very well-kept secret, and everybody around knows. So it wasn’t a surprise when I went to my employer; she absolutely was aware of what was going on, respected my privacy enough to leave me alone about it, but was extremely supportive.”

Gawronsky said that while the new law might change over time, she was more than satisfied with its current incarnation. “This is the way to start it off. We’ll see where it goes from here,” she said. “We’ve got something to work with.

“This legislation is very supportive of compassionate and healthy workplaces.”

Details of The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act can be viewed online at https://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/40-5/b008e.php.