Victims of domestic and sexualized violence can now access paid and unpaid time off as part of a new addition to the Yukon’s Employment Standards Act.
“We know that offering job-protected leave for victims of domestic and sexualized assault is the right thing to do so people have the time to heal and seek the services they choose for themselves,” said Women’s Directorate Minister Jeanie McLean in a statement released July 8.
Like access to sick leave or vacation, people who are coping with domestic violence or sexual assault are now entitled to five days of paid leave and five days of unpaid leave. The time can be taken at once or in increments.
If required, up to 15 unpaid weeks of “short-term leave” can also be taken with employer’s consent.
All people covered by the Employment Standards Act – which includes most workers in the territory outside of public servants and unionized employees – are eligible for the leave.
Sofia Fortin, executive director of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, said the time off from work can allow survivors to take a mental break and access support without worrying about their livelihood.
“When we see clients who come and experience this stuff, or when we hear stories, I think the first thing to really remember is how traumatic of an experience it can be,” she said.
“In particular, if you’re dealing with something like a sexual assault you may go through a period of extreme withdrawal, you may feel confused, you may have all kinds of emotions coming up.
“To try and go to work in a state of mental distress, when you’ve experienced such a massive violation of your personal space, is pretty challenging,” she said.
The department also suggested that in some cases, individuals need time to seek medical attention, get counselling, relocate or pursue legal options.
Fortin said in cases of domestic violence when workers might be returning home to an abuser, being able to take time off to make arrangements is also critically important.
“It’s complicated, especially with young children, to completely upend your life. To grab your things, find a place to live immediately, especially in the housing climate that we have,” Fortin said. “[Working hours] might be the only safe time that you have to make phone calls and inquiries and do the things that you need to do to create safety for yourself.”
Under the policy, the time off can also be taken by a family member or close friend who is supporting someone through domestic or sexualized violence.
“Having the ability, as a victimized person, to ask a friend to take time off work to help you, or ask your parents to take time off work to help you is also massive because navigating these things alone can be really challenging,” Fortin said.
In order to apply for leave, employees are asked to give employers as much notice as possible, and may be required to fill out a notice form from the government. Employers must keep the information confidential and cannot request proof.
The form is meant to be non-intrusive and requires the dates of the leave and acknowledge that the time off is domestic violence and job-protected leave.
Paid short-term leave and unpaid long-term leave will be available after 90 days of employment. Unpaid short-term leave will be available immediately.
The policy was developed by the Yukon government in partnership with a long list of non-profits and business groups such as the Yukon Status of Women Council, Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, Queer Yukon and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
Rates of domestic violence in the Yukon are three times the national average. Rates of sexualized violence in the Yukon are also higher than the national average.
All 10 provinces, as well as the Northwest Territories, have some version of leave for domestic violence. Six jurisdictions also provide leave for sexualized violence.
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