Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave: What Employers Need to Know

  • Workplace Health & Safety
Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave
Olivia Cicchini

Olivia Cicchini, Employment Law Expert

(Last updated )

Domestic and sexual violence can have a significant impact on individuals and their ability to work. Recognizing the significant impact these abuses can have on individuals and communities, the Ontario government introduced a Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave as part of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in 2017, which allows employees who have experienced or been threatened with domestic or sexual violence to take time off from work to deal with the effects.

As an employer, it is essential to understand the requirements and implications of Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave to ensure that your workplace policies are compliant with relevant legislation and are supportive of employees who have survived violence.

What is Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave?

Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave is a form of job-protected leave that allows employees to take time off from work if they or their child (those under legal guardianship that are under the age of 18-years-old) have experienced domestic or sexual violence. Domestic violence can include physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse by a current or former partner or family member. Sexual violence can include sexual assault, sexual harassment, or stalking.

During the leave, employees can take time off work to seek medical attention, obtain services from a victim services organization, obtain counselling or therapy, relocate or make other safety arrangements, or participate in legal proceedings related to the violence. Employees are not required to disclose the details of the violence to their employer and can choose to use the leave intermittently or all at once.

An employee may be entitled to  Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave in addition to other statutory leaves for the same event. Additionally, employees can access other supports and resources, such as employment insurance benefits, to help them through this difficult time.

What are the requirements for Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave?

Provincially-regulated employees in Ontario are entitled to time off for specific purposes involving domestic or sexual violence. This is covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA) under the definition of Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave. Eligibility requirements vary across jurisdictions in Canada. However, there are some common elements that are shared across most jurisdictions.

Eligibility

In Canada, the required service for an employee to be entitled to Domestic or Sexual Violence leave ranges from 90 days to 13 weeks. For example, an employee in Ontario must have worked for your company for at least 13 consecutive weeks. An employee who has committed domestic or sexual violence does not have the right to take this leave.

Length of Leave

The length of Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave also varies by jurisdiction. Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave in Canada generally provides up to 10 days of time off and up to 15 or 16 weeks of unpaid time off in a calendar year.

Reasons for the leave

Where domestic or sexual violence occurs, your employee has the right to:

  • Take time off for medical attention;
  • Seek psychological or other professional counselling;
  • Access victim services;
  • Relocate temporarily or permanently; or
  • Request legal or law enforcement assistance.

Pay

Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave is generally unpaid, but some jurisdictions require employers to pay employees for a portion of the leave. For example, in Ontario, the first five days of leave taken in a calendar year are paid, and the remaining time off is unpaid.

Job Protection

Employees who take Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave are entitled to job protection. This means that employers must ensure that the employee has a job to return to after their leave is over. Employers cannot terminate or penalize employees for taking Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave.

What are the benefits of providing Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave?

While Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave is primarily intended to support employees who have experienced violence, there are also benefits for employers.

Creates a supportive workplace

Firstly, Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave can help create a supportive workplace environment. By offering time off to employees survivors of violence, you can demonstrate care for the well-being of your employees and show your will to support them during difficult times. This can help to build trust and loyalty among employees, which can lead to higher employee retention rates and increased productivity.

Reduce absenteeism and presenteeism

Secondly, Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave can help to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism. When employees are dealing with the effects of violence, they may need time off to seek medical attention, attend counselling, or deal with other related matters. Without access to leave, employees may feel forced to come to work despite their circumstances or choose to stay overtime when unnecessary. This can lead to reduced productivity, increased stress; and ultimately, increased absenteeism or presenteeism.

Help reduce the risk of liability

Thirdly, Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave can help reduce the risk of liability for employers. Employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. If an employee is experiencing violence, the employer may have a responsibility to take action to protect the employee and ensure their safety. By providing access to Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave, employers are helping to fulfill their duty to provide a safe workplace.

How to Approach Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave as an Employer

As an employer, it is important to understand the requirements and implications of Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave and to develop policies and procedures that are compliant with relevant legislation and supportive of employees who have experienced violence. By doing so, you can create a safe and healthy workplace and demonstrate your commitment to the well-being of your employees.

In addition to providing a job-protected leave of absence, there are a number of measures you can implement to ensure your employees feel supported, including:

  • Creating a domestic violence policy
  • Providing your employee with flexible arrangements to deal with relocation, access to healthcare or pursuing legal action
  • Establishing employee privacy and confidentiality

Do you need help creating a policy for Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave?

Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave is an important tool for supporting employees who have experienced violence. By providing access to leave, employers can help to create a supportive workplace culture, reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, reduce the risk of liability, and improve employee morale and well-being.

If you’re in a situation where your employee is asking for domestic or sexual violence leave, and you’re unsure about your responsibilities as an employer, ask one of Peninsula’s professional for advice. If you need assistance implementing a policy on Domestic Violence Leave, we can help. Contact us at 1 (833) 247-3652 to speak with one of our experts today.

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