HALIFAX - Victims of domestic violence in Nova Scotia would be able to take up to 16 continuous weeks of unpaid leave under legislation introduced Thursday by the Liberal government.
Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis said amendments to the Labour Standards Code would ensure that victims will not lose their jobs when they need leave to seek help.
"This leave will provide support for those seeking safety from their abuser and allow victims the time they need to address the complex situation of domestic violence without the added stress and fear of losing their job," said Kousoulis.
Kousoulis said the legislation would also provide 10 intermittent days to allow victims to seek out services and supports and includes a confidentiality provision for all employee information.
"I don't even want the individual to have to provide a doctor's note," he said.
Kousoulis said individuals would "on their own word" be able to fill out a simple one-page form that they would provide to an employer. He said they wouldn't have to provide details of their situation.
The changes would allow victims leave to seek medical attention, to obtain help from victim services organizations, to get legal help, and to relocate either temporarily or permanently.
The leave would also cover situations where an employee's child is the victim of domestic violence.
According to the department, Manitoba, Ontario, and the federal government provide five paid days as part of their legislation. Alberta provides 10 days — all unpaid — while Quebec introduced a bill only last week that provided 26 weeks with two paid days.
Kousoulis said the province hasn't ruled out paid leave days at a future point, but it wants to consider more information before potentially doing so.
"We want to get data back on how would a paid leave be different from an unpaid leave for individuals and also see how much time is being taken off," he said.
Kousoulis said he has also written to federal officials to ask that Employment Insurance be extended to people who are in situations involving domestic violence, although he said he hasn't heard back since making the request two months ago.
The minister said consultations on the bill with the business community were based on unpaid leave and he felt it was better to bring the bill forward now and potentially make additions, rather than hold it up for more consultations on paid leave.
Opposition critics were quick to praise the government's move as a "good first step," but they also questioned why a paid leave provision wasn't included.
NDP critic Tammy Martin wondered how effective the change would be, especially for lower wage workers.
"The minister talked about going to see a lawyer," said Martin. "How can they afford to see a lawyer let alone buy groceries if they are taking time off without pay?"
Interim Progressive Conservative leader Karla MacFarlane also wondered why the bill was brought forward now if pay provisions will eventually be added.
"The bill is incomplete," said MacFarlane. "They say they want to ensure that there is economic stability — well, prove it. It doesn't say that in the bill yet."
Miia Suokonautio, executive director of YWCA Halifax, said her organization took part in the consultations and believes the changes brought forward by the government "signal something quite positive."
But Suokonautio said the government will have to consider whether it's enough to provide job protection when there is a lack of income protection.
"What we don't want ... is a protection that only benefits upper middle class white women. We want something that will support Indigenous women, African Nova Scotian women and women with disabilities, all of whom we know earn less than white women in this country."
The province also moved Thursday to amend the Insurance Act in order to ensure insurance companies can't deny coverage to people in vulnerable situations.
Finance Minister Karen Casey said the current legislation around homeowners' policies is unclear about whether or not coverage would be provided if the damage was caused by someone listed on the policy.
"This will make a huge impact for all Nova Scotians, especially women, who are disproportionately affected by domestic violence and or abuse," said Casey.
She said Nova Scotia was joining British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec in addressing the issue.