For years employment standards legislation has provided a variety of statutory leaves, such as maternity and parental leave, jury duty, and bereavement leave. However, those leaves were always unpaid; the Employer’s obligation was limited to providing the employee unpaid time off and returning them to their position, or a comparable one, once the leave was completed.

On March 3, 2020, the Government of British Columbia introduced legislation that changes this norm.

Bill 5, the Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2020, introduces an amendment to domestic and sexual violence leave that represents, for the first time, a requirement that employers provide a paid statutory leave of absence.

Domestic or sexual violence leave is itself a relatively new leave, being introduced only last year by the current government. As introduced, an employee or a vulnerable person under that employee’s care (eg. a child or ill or infirm adult for whom the employee provided care) could take 10 unpaid days followed by up to a further 15 weeks of unpaid leave, if they had experienced domestic or sexual violence and in order to:

(a) seek medical attention in respect of a physical or psychological injury or disability caused by the domestic or sexual violence;

(b) obtain victim services or other social services relating to domestic or sexual violence;

(c) obtain psychological or other professional counselling services in respect of a psychological or emotional condition caused by the domestic or sexual violence;

(d) temporarily or permanently relocate; or

(e) seek legal or law enforcement assistance, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to the domestic or sexual violence.

Bill 5 maintains domestic and sexual violence leave, but instead of providing an initial period of 10 unpaid days, now provides 5 paid days and 5 unpaid days. These days may be taken consecutively or separately. This period remains followed by up to an additional 15 weeks leave.

The government has called for comment on Bill 5. However, based on this government’s past practice it is unlikely to modify the Bill from its current form and is likely to enact it quickly (prior amendments to employment standards have gone from being introduced to becoming law in less than one month).

Concluding thoughts:

  • There is no minimum service period before employees are eligible for this benefit. That means employers may find that a brand new employee takes a leave and the employer is obligated to pay that employee.
  • It appears that the paid leave has no cash value. An employee who does not take domestic or sexual violence leave does not appear eligible to be paid out for the five unused days. Likewise an employee who does not take domestic or sexual violence leave for five years does not accrue the paid days so that in year 6 they are eligible for 25 paid days.
  • While an employer hopes that this type of leave would never be abused, the employer does retain the right to have the employee provide “reasonably sufficient proof” that the employee is legitimately taking the leave.