December 6th marked Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women and Girls. Recent studies suggest that 54% of domestic and sexual violence victims have faced abuse at or near their workplace, placing significant stressors on performance, attendance, and mental health. Employers also feel the effects of domestic violence. Statistics Canada has reported that incidents of domestic violence cost Canadian employers close to $78 million annually. A new bill aimed at addressing these issues is currently progressing through the provincial legislature.

If passed, Bill 26 (titled the Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016), would amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 [the “ESA”], permitting employees to take up to ten days of paid leave per calendar year if they or their children are victims of domestic or sexual violence. Though pay would be capped at ten days, employees would be entitled to leaves of a “reasonable duration” to seek medical attention, psychological counselling, community services, and/or legal assistance. Employees would also be entitled to take time off work to relocate, where the purpose of such relocation is to reduce the chance of future violence.

Employers would also be required to provide impacted employees with reasonable accommodation, such as reduced work hours, schedule changes, or changes to the place of work. As is the standard elsewhere in the ESA, employers would only be required to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.

Bill 26 also proposes amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The proposed changes would require that managers, supervisors, and workers take part in mandatory training on the warning signs, impacts, and risks of domestic and sexual violence in the workplace.

On October 20, 2016, Bill 26 passed second reading with the unanimous support of the Ontario legislature. It has now been referred to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly.

Written with the assistance of Jessica Warwick, articling student.

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