Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking often need time off from work to seek medical care, obtain a protection order, and find shelter or safe housing to protect themselves and their children from harm. Once safe from immediate threats, survivors may need additional time off to work with victim advocates or participate in the justice system. Analysis of data from the National Violence Against Women Survey found that victims of intimate partner violence who were stalked lost an average of 10.1 days of paid work per year, those who were raped lost an average of 8.1 days per year, and those who experienced physical violence lost 7.2 days per year. Taking time off is often necessary to achieve safety, yet it can have a significant impact on survivors’ economic security. Paid sick and safe laws allow survivors to seek critical services when needed without having to jeopardize their ability to pay bills or their employment.
San Francisco was the first city to adopt a policy in 2007. Since then eight states and more than 30 counties and cities have enacted paid sick and safe leave policies. While individual statutes vary, these paid leave laws generally allow eligible employees to accrue time off that can be used to recover from an illness or take care of a sick family member without the loss of income or risk of losing their job. Many statutes include safe leave provisions for domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking victims to take paid time off to help ensure their safety and well-being. Approved activities may include seeking medical attention for injuries or counseling, obtaining victim and/or legal services, relocating oneself and one’s family, and participating in investigations or court proceedings related to abuse.
Protections for survivors vary by state with some including paid leave for domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking (Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) while others only cover domestic and sexual violence (Connecticut) or domestic violence (Massachusetts). Of counties and cities with paid sick and safe leave ordinances, San Diego, San Francisco, Emeryville, and Los Angeles, CA; Chicago/Cook County, IL; Montgomery County, MD; Philadelphia, PA; New Brunswick, NJ; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; and Seattle and Spokane, WA, have coverage for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. While Berkeley and Oakland, CA; New Jersey City, Newark, Irvington, Passaic, East Orange, Paterson, Trenton, Montclair, Bloomfield, Elizabeth, Plainfield, and Morristown, NJ; and New York City, have paid sick leave policies they do not include safe time coverage for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Coverage also often depends on the size of the employer and occupation, and accrual of paid sick hours often begins at the start of employment. When eligible, employers generally require a certain period of employment prior to accessing paid leave. For survivors protected by these laws, paid leave may mean the difference between risking their income and employement to be safe and maintaining economic independence so that they may be free from abuse in future.