It's Time for Paid Safe Time

Domestic violence permeates our workplaces. About one in five full-time workers in America have experienced some form of domestic violence. Of those, 96 percent of victims had the crime spill over into work. Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence is not a private crime, and some workers have trouble addressing its aftermath because of the way workplaces are structured. Supportive employers and thoughtful public policy -- such as paid safe time -- can help these workers meet their needs.

October is the perfect month to raise the visibility of paid safe time. It is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Traditionally, this is a time when advocates and others make concerted efforts to educate our collective consciousness about the epidemic of intimate partner violence and other crimes like sexual assault and stalking. October is also National Work and Family Month -- a time when advocates and others raise awareness about the mismatch that results from the structure of America's workplaces and the needs of its workers.

These events are usually recognized separately. It is time that ends.

Acts of domestic violence often happen while someone is at work. A perpetrator may work with the victim, threaten or commit acts of physical or sexual violence in the workplace, or use workplace resources to emotionally or verbally abuse the victim. In addition, a perpetrator may contact the victim employee at work via phone, email, text or otherwise. A perpetrator also may cause someone to miss or be late to work in any number of ways, from changing child-care arrangements, to denying access to transportation, to physical restraint. (The CDC calculates that this leads to an annual loss of 8,000,000 missed days of work. Further, 1 in 10 women report missing at least one full day of work or school due to intimate partner violence.) As a result of domestic violence, victim employees may be embarrassed or distracted at work, leading to subpar job performance. All of this has direct and indirect costs on employers, including loss due to reduced worker productivity.

At the same time, an employer may not know how to address the impact of violence, fail to create or implement a relevant workplace policy or train supervisors on this issue, or misunderstand the problem, which may compound the situation and make matters worse. This may be exacerbated further by the reality that many supervisors, coworkers, and employees are afraid or unaware of how to talk about domestic violence, the needs it causes, or its impact at work. Unfortunately, workers have been fired or otherwise discriminated against when they have taken time off as a result of this crime. (Employers interested in learning more about positive steps they can take to address this should click here or here.)

This October, it is time we recognize the intersection of domestic violence and work-life issues. An effective national policy on domestic violence must understand the impact this epidemic has on the workplace, including the problems for both employees and employers, some of which result from the structure of the workplace itself. Similarly, an effective national policy to support working families must recognize the need that victims of domestic violence have for time off and flexible work arrangements. Historically, the law has not required employers to provide access to paid time off to address this problem. A movement is under way to change this.

States and localities have taken the lead by passing laws that require employers to grant victims of domestic violence access to paid safe time. (Click here or here for more info.) These laws often define safe time to include the ability to take time off to address the effects that domestic violence may have had on victim employees' lives without the added stress of job loss or loss of pay.

Building off this momentum, on Labor Day, President Obama signed an Executive Order that requires federal contractors to provide employees with up to seven days of paid sick and safe time per year as of January 1, 2017. This is a critical step in advancing our nation's economic security and supporting working families. It also means that about 300,000 more potential survivors of domestic violence will have access to paid safe time.

This time off may aid in security and safety planning. It may offer the ability to pursue safe housing, medical care, counseling, or legal or other assistance from a service provider. Or it may allow an employee to participate in or prepare for court proceedings. The ability to undertake these important tasks enables survivors to get on the path to recovery while staying attached to the workforce. This is critical. For many victims, the key to one's safety is tied to the ability to be economically independent from an abuser. Indeed, a steady paycheck is a strong indicator of whether someone is able to leave, move on, or otherwise remain safe from a perpetrator of violence.

Survivors should no longer be further victimized by outdated workplace structures, and employers do not need to lose otherwise productive employees. Not one more victim should be fired for taking time off from work to deal with this crime. Further, victims who are "lucky" enough not to get fired for taking time off to address the aftermath of violence should not have to do so without pay. The choice should not be whether to lose your job, take unpaid leave or retain the economic independence necessary to leave a violent situation. People should not be fired, and pay should not be docked for this purpose.

President Obama gets it. Some state and local legislatures get it. Some businesses get it by voluntarily supporting employees on this front. Now, during both National Work and Family Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let's help others get it. Let's keep building the movement for this work-life policy on the national, state, and local levels. It's time for paid safe time for all.