Paid domestic violence leave part of N.W.T. employment act starting next year

Changes to Employment Standards Act include extending parental leave from 37 to 67 weeks

Original Article: CBC News  |  12 December 2019

Employees in the Northwest Territories who are governed by the Employment Standards Act and who are experiencing domestic violence will be able to take up to five days of paid leave starting in 2020.

Changes to the territory's Employment Standards Act will come into effect on Jan. 1, according to a news release issued Thursday. They also include extending parental leave from 37 weeks of unpaid leave to 67 weeks. Compassionate care leave, allotted for workers to give care to dying family members, will extend from eight to 27 weeks of unpaid leave each year.

Two-parent families, and adoptive parents, will also get an additional eight weeks of unpaid leave for the second parent.

In the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment R. J. Simpson said the changes to the act will protect workers' jobs "when faced with important or challenging moments in life."

Not all leave paid

In addition to the five days of paid leave in the case of domestic violence, workers can also apply for five days of unpaid leave and up to 15 additional weeks of unpaid leave, with prior written notice.

"This leave could be taken to seek medical attention, attend counselling or legal appointments, access victim services, and for a variety of other purposes," said Simpson.

Several provinces have brought in domestic violence leave in the last few years, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. Simpson noted that the N.W.T. has a family violence rate eight times higher than the national average. 

"Family violence is a serious issue that affects too many of our residents."

Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society, previously told CBC that the leave should be paid in full. She also questioned how the leave will be implemented.

"Is it leave only if someone leaves a relationship? Are they able to access it multiple times over the course of their employment?" she said.

"Those factors really need to be figured out in order for us to ensure that it's a policy that actually benefits women."

Neither the news release, or Simpson's speech, got into the specifics of how the leave will be implemented.

Nannies and housekeepers covered

Federal and territorial government employees, and employees in federally-regulated workplaces such as banks, airlines and telecommunications companies, are not covered by the Employment Standards Act.

The new changes will extend to cover nannies and housekeepers, "providing them with an employment standards minimum and ensuring job protection," Simpson said.

He said the changes will ensure the Northwest Territories government remains a competitive workplace.

"We will be conducting an advertising blitz in the new year to inform and update employers throughout the Northwest Territories and ensure a successful transition."