It’s a lose-lose situation: If you’re a victim of domestic violence, you’re likely to have to skip work on short notice ― to seek medical attention, to talk to police and prosecutors, or even to relocate for your own safety. But missing work means losing money, or even worse, your job, at a time when financial independence is key.
Victims in Arizona and Washington may not have to worry about that anymore.
While most people understand the concept of paid sick leave, which allows employees to take time off when they’re ill without cutting into their paychecks, the idea behind paid safe leave is less widely known. In essence, it allows victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault to take paid time off if they need to access services related to the abuse they suffered.
Arizona and Washington will join five states ― California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont ― and Washington, D.C., which already have laws requiring employers to provide paid safe leave to employees if they are victims of domestic violence.
A growing number of municipalities and counties also offer paid time off for victims. New York City may soon follow.
Ellen Bravo, executive director at Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions working to enact paid sick leave, said it makes sense to pair sick leave with safe leave.
“The purpose of paid sick leave is that it’s a job measure. It helps people stay employed,” she said. “If a person is experiencing violence, that’s a time when they most need economic security so they can either get away or take another step to safeguard themselves.”
Kelly Starr, managing director of Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, applauded the measure’s passage in her state.
“We envision a world where people make choices about their relationship based on what’s best for them and their children, not based on the financial impact of those decisions,” she said. “This gets us one step closer to that vision.”
Both raising the minimum wage and requiring paid safe leave is equally important for survivors of violence, Starr said.
“We just know how closely access to money is tried to people’s safety and stability,” she said. One of the main reasons people remain or return to abusive partners is financial insecurity, she added.
Shannon Rich, director of public policy at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said survivors in her state will no longer have to make the difficult choice between lost wages and accessing critical services.
Medical treatment, counseling and legal services all equal “time away from work that puts survivors at risk of loss wages or loss employment,” she said. “When survivors have access to workplace resources that help them build economic resiliency, they and their families are more likely to remain safe.”
Domestic violence costs the U.S. at least $8 billion a year in lost productivity and health care costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and victims report an average of 7.2 days of work-related lost productivity per year due to abuse.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.