New law gives battered women and men paid time off work

Melissa Corbeil

Melissa Corbeil got support to speak in public about her years of abuse by her husband

THE ATTACK BY HER HUSBAND DIDN’T MATTER. Being completely stressed out because of it didn’t matter. Julianne* had to drive into work the next morning regardless. She shouldn’t have. She got into a car accident.

“The stress was exponential,” she said. “The burst of adrenaline to the body, the terror you feel. That’s what caused the accident. But I was the sole support of my daughter. I couldn’t afford to take a day off.”

Julianne wouldn’t be forced to make those bad choices now. Thanks to the work of 54 Ontario unions.

The unions came together to support an Ontario NDP drive to change Ontario law to provide time off for victims of domestic violence.

It all paid off in November when the Ontario government revised labour law to allow victims of domestic violence to take 10 days leave to from their jobs—half with full pay. “This amendment is the direct result of what we heard from advocates during the consultation process,” said Ontario Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn.

‘For two or three days you’re just numb.’

The importance of this new law cannot be overemphasized. As Julianne explained: “For two or three days you’re just numb. You’re in overdrive so you just shut down. You need the time off to thaw out. Being able to minimize your responsibilities after these things happen, can allow you to regroup and figure out the next steps to take.”

The range of challenges facing a woman who has experienced domestic violence are immense. For example, 75% of Canadian women and children seeking emergency shelter are turned away.

Other challenges include:

  • the need to make new childcare arrangements so that her children are safe
  • the need to meet with police or a lawyer
  • the need to obtain medical assistance for herself or her children
  • the need to take the time to deal with the effects of the trauma, through counselling or other interventions.   

Along with all that, studies have found that approximately 10% of victims of domestic violence have lost their jobs because of it.4

Victims at home, victims at work

An American study found that almost 96% of those experiencing domestic violence also experienced problems at work due to the abuse, 56% were late for work, 28% had to leave work early, and 54% missed entire days of work.

Studies also estimate domestic abuse costs employers $80 billion a year.

The province will also establish guidelines to protect confidentiality in the workplace so that survivors of domestic violence don’t have to deal with the additional fear of having their personal trauma shared with all their colleagues.  

“Someone who’s never been through this has no idea how much it affects every aspect of your life,” says Kirsten, whose partner assaulted, and then stalked her.

“I had to take off work just to find a way to hide from him. I was living in dread of what he might do next. Being able to have the workplace support to do what I had to do would have been wonderful, and I sure wouldn’t have wanted to have my story spread around the office with all the victim blaming that still happens.”  

The 54 labour unions that originally fought for this legislation, all of them members of the Ontario Federation of Labour, have committed to pressing for paid leave and improved workplace supports for those who have experienced domestic violence, in all future contract talks.

The declaration, “UNIONS MATTER They Promote Workplace Fairness” is more than just a slogan. It’s a pledge that unions are fulfilling every time they stand up for the rights of the most vulnerable workers who would never be able to fight these battles on their own.

As Kirsten says, “You might think this will never happen to you or to someone you care about but I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. It can happen to anyone. In a minute, you can be fighting for your life or for your kid’s life. We need to stop thinking about this as an issue that only happens to ‘other people’ and start thinking about it as a problem that we have to tackle together as a society.” And Ontario unions are doing just that.

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* Names have been changed to protect the individuals involved

 Survey conducted by the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses, 2017

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