January 16, 2017

b9983eda24bd0e42b58019cd00d48601The Ontario provincial government continues its recognition of the impact of domestic violence on the workplace with Bill 26, which proposes amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Previous developments

Bill 168, which came into force on June 15, 2010 as an amendment to the OHSA, established a requirement that employers undertake risk assessments and develop programs to investigate workplace violence and harassment. More information about Bill 168 can be found here.

In 2014, changes to the ESA introduced three new types of statutorily-protected leaves of absence: family caregiver leave, critically ill child care leave, and crime-related child death/disappearance leave.

Bill 132 came into force in September 2016, and expands the definition of workplace harassment to include sexual harassment, expanding upon Bill 168.

What Bill 26 proposes

Bill 26 proposes further amendments to the law which would establish a statutorily-protected leave for victims of domestic violence. Specifically, the bill provides that:

  • Employees would be entitled to a 10-day paid leave (which would make this the first fully paid leave under the ESA) for:
    • Seeking medical attention, be it physical or psychological
    • Obtaining services from a social services program or other community agency
    • Obtaining psychological or other professional counselling
    • Relocating for the purpose of making future violence less likely
    • Seeking legal or law enforcement assistance
  • Employers would be required to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to employees if they or their child had experienced domestic or sexual violence, which could include:
    • Changing the employee’s place of work
    • Changing the employee’s schedule
    • As with other forms of accommodation, employers would be entitled to ask the employee to provide reasonable evidence of the need for accommodation
  • Employers would be required to provide every manager, supervisor and worker with information and instruction about domestic violence in the workplace

Bill 26 passed first reading in September 2016 and second reading in October 2016, with unanimous support.

Although the bill is still in early stages, employers would be wise to consider it when drafting or reviewing their workplace violence and harassment policies. If you are an employer and would like to ensure that your workplace violence and harassment policies and leave of absence policies are statutorily-compliant, please contact us. If you are an employee who believes your employer is not meeting its obligations, we can help by reviewing your situation.

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By Cody Yorke