Advancing #MeToo through Paid Sick Days Legislation

By: Tanya L. Goldman 

One of the important rights we can provide to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault is access to paid sick and safe days. Nearly one in three women will experience physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. These rates are even higher for women of color. Paid sick and safe days allow survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to use paid leave to seek help while maintaining the critical financial stability that comes with keeping a job.

Thus far, 42 jurisdictions in the United States have passed paid sick leave legislation, with New Jersey becoming the 10th state to pass a paid sick and safe days law on April 12. The New Jersey law will benefit about 1.2 million workers who don’t currently get paid sick days. The laws in all 10 states and the District of Columbia provide some level of “safe” coverage, which can be used for absences associated with domestic violence, sexual harassment, assault, or stalking. In addition, under the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a regulation requiring certain federal contractors to provide up to seven paid sick days. These days can also be used for needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, including accessing medical treatment and counseling, along with seeking relocation, assistance from a victim services organization, or related legal activities.

Economic stability is critical for someone coping with sexual assault and domestic violence. The National Network to End Domestic Violence reports that victims’ fears about providing for themselves and their children are a significant reason for staying in or returning to an abusive relationship. These economic fears are warranted. According to the U.S. General Accountability Office, between 24 and 52 percent of domestic violence survivors reported that they lost a job, at least in part, due to domestic violence. Keeping a job and having the ability to take care of immediate needs without forgoing a paycheck allows survivors to obtain medical care and counseling, attend court appearances, meet with lawyers or the police, or take care of activities like moving to a safe location. This is particularly important for low-wage workers, who often lack time and resources to access medical care, contact authorities, or obtain a protective order.

Advocating for “paid safe days” in paid sick days legislation is one way to observe Sexual Assault and Abuse Prevention Month. Despite exciting momentum at the state and local level, much work remains to be done. We must also defend against the so-called Workflex Bill, which would undermine state and local laws that guarantee paid sick and safe leave for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. By preempting state and local laws, this federal bill would strip 13 million working people of the rights they are now guaranteed in paid sick days legislation. 

The federal Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1516/S. 636) would create a national standard to extend these rights to the 37 million workers who do not currently have the right to earn paid sick days. This law would allow workers to earn paid safe days, providing survivors with job protection and financial stability while coping with domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.