Domestic Violence Awareness Month Reinforces Need for ‘Safe Time’ Rights

Oct 27, 2016

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

With October designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that over 10 million people are affected by this problem each year in the United States. The impact of domestic violence often extends into survivors’ workplaces: abusers may harass their targets at work or prevent them from reporting to their jobs. To compound the problem, survivors often face negative consequences from their employers; up to 60% of domestic violence survivors lose their jobs for reasons related to the abuse.

Employers can and should play a role in helping to ensure survivors’ security—including their economic security—isn’t jeopardized. Among other steps they may take, employers can provide paid safe time – time available for survivors (or family members supporting survivors) to  receive support such as legal assistance, crisis center services, or medical treatment related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. A worker might use safe time to file a restraining order against an abuser, to seek a crisis center’s assistance in escaping an abusive relationship, or to accompany a family member filing a police report against an abuser. Having job-protected paid safe time means the employee can take this time without worrying about losing income for the day or being fired. Recognizing the importance of safe time, 19 of the more than three dozen jurisdictions in the country requiring employers to provide paid sick time have specified in their statutes that workers can use accrued paid sick time as safe time. Even in jurisdictions without such laws, employers may choose to incorporate safe time policies into their workplace practices.

Safe time policies also benefit survivors by enabling them to keep their situation private, should they choose to do so. Unfortunately, survivors of domestic violence still face a stigma in our society, so some survivors may reasonably prefer not to disclose their situation to their employers. In most jurisdictions with paid sick and safe time laws, employers cannot require verification (such as a doctor’s note, court documents, etc.) of the need for sick or safe time until the employee has used three consecutive days of time. Thus, in the example above, an employee who only needed one afternoon to file the restraining order could simply report the need to use paid sick time. This employee would not need to produce verification or specify that the time was being used as safe time.

These safe time protections currently support survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking in 19 jurisdictions and at additional workplaces that have voluntarily adopted safe time policies. But survivors nationwide deserve the same protections. The federal Healthy Families Act, which would grant job-protected paid sick time to workers across the country, would also guarantee the right to use that sick time as safe time. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, CLASP calls on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act to support domestic violence survivors and all workers.

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