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Women’s organization, union negotiating leave for domestic violence

Policy would allow time off for court dates, medical treatment


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, a nonprofit organization that assists women in the Halifax area who have been in conflict with the criminal justice system, is in the process of adopting leave for employees due to intimate-partner violence.

The Society is negotiating a collective agreement with the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU) that will include a provision on victims of domestic violence. The parties reportedly ratified a deal in March and signed it on June 7.

The current language being considered for the policy allows for special leave that includes, but is not limited to, “employees requiring assistance dealing with intimate-partner violence.”

Dawn Ferris, the Society’s acting executive director, told COHSN that she believed this policy would be the first of its kind in the province.

“It’s moving in the right direction, for a change, and we don’t normally see that,” said Ferris. “It’s putting on paper what we know is the right thing to do.”

The provision would allow both paid and unpaid time off for employees who have to miss work due to court appearances, moves into transition houses, medical appointments and time needed to heal from injuries, she added.

“It’s a scary thing. I had a friend badly beaten by her estranged ex,” said Ferris, “and she got a doctor’s note for stress, basically, to help cover that time off. And I always felt that it was sort of wrong that the doctor had to call it ‘stress’,” she continued, “when she was dealing with some nasty physical bruises and some trauma.”

NSGEU president Jason MacLean predicted that the new policy would “revolutionize” collective agreements throughout Canada.

“It’s going to acknowledge that there are issues and give help,” said MacLean, “and it’s going to take away the shame of this happening to somebody and give them an ability to reach out. Because employers now — or this employer, at least — will be providing help for their staff that are in this certain situation.”

He added that the NSGEU is planning to share the language of the collective agreement with many other employers and unions, to encourage them to adopt similar policies about intimate-partner violence. “It’s going to take some time to get there, but this opens the door.”

Ferris also hoped that other employers would follow her organization’s lead.

“Hopefully, this will set a trend where other progressive employers can pull along the less progressive employers,” she said. “When paternity leave and maternity leave were first created, there were a lot of people saying, ‘Why are we doing this?’” But now, these types of leave are the standard. “There are so many more barriers to women being in the workplace.

“We have to do things that are right, to keep women engaged in their employment and moving forward.”

While workers’ need for leave due to domestic violence is not so frequent in a small outfit like the Society, Ferris added, “in the bigger capacity — so, say, an employer with thousands of employees — I think it’s much more common.”

MacLean noted that intimate-partner violence often leads to absenteeism. “And other times, they’re coming to work and they’re saying, ‘Oh, I bumped into a door,’ or ‘I slipped in the shower,’ or something like that,” he said. “Somebody doesn’t have to feel ashamed that this is happening.

“Some people are lucky that they don’t have to deal with it, but I’ll tell you, to have help there and know that your employer cares about the situation is something that every worker should have.”

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia is a charitable entity that provides affordable housing, housing assistance and an outreach and referral program for women who are, or are at risk of being, in conflict with the justice system, according to information from its website.