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How employers can save money -- and lives -- with paid leave

Employers should be first in line to provide support and protection to their workers—not punishments that further jeopardize their safety and economic security.
A posed woman with her head in her hands for a domestic violence awareness campaign. (Photo by David Cheskin/PA Wire/AP)
A posed woman with her head in her hands for a domestic violence awareness campaign. 

Janice worked the counter at a popular location of a fast food restaurant. Her boyfriend would constantly call and text her at work, demanding to know whom she was talking to and what she was doing. He even showed up at her workplace a few times during her shift, resulting in a warning from her supervisor.

One weekend during an argument, Janice's boyfriend stabbed her in the stomach, and Janice was taken to the ER while her daughter ran to a neighbor's house. In the hospital, Janice called a co-worker to cover her shift later that day and to let her supervisor know what happened. After two days in the hospital, Janice returned to work. Her supervisor told her that after she finished her shift, she didn't need to come back. He said she was letting her "personal" issues interfere with work and wasn't reliable.

Sadly, Janice’s experience is all too common, particularly among women, who comprise two-thirds of minimum wage earners and are disproportionately subject to violence and stalking both in and outside the workplace. Domestic and sexual violence don’t only present serious threats to women’s safety -- they also threaten their economic security.

"More than 12 million women and men in the United States suffer from domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking every year."'

More than 12 million women and men in the United States suffer from domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking every year, and the repercussions extend far beyond the individual. Violence impacts entire communities and hurts our businesses and economy. A survey of 1,200 full-time American employees found that 44% of employed adults personally experienced the effects of domestic violence in their workplace, and 64% indicated violence affected their ability to work.

Most low-wage jobs, unlike many office or white-collar jobs, don't come with paid leave, health insurance, or other benefits. Missing work means not getting paid and the very real risk of getting fired. In the aftermath of a traumatizing assault or frightening stalking incident, a worker may need to go to the police, to court, or to the doctor. He or she shouldn’t have to worry about losing a job or paying bills in an effort to stay safe -- an impossible choice many survivors are forced to make. Employers have both a unique ability and a responsibility to recognize how important it is for victims to be able to take time off to recover, obtain a restraining order, or pursue other legal assistance to help ensure his or her welfare.

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Paid sick days and paid family leave laws and policies are essential. It is also crucial for the leave to extend explicitly to survivors of violence. A 2005 study of female employees in Maine who experienced domestic violence found that 60% lost their jobs due to firing or resignation as a consequence of domestic violence, and 45% reported concern that they would be fired if they discussed the violence with their employer. Between 2005 and 2006, one in eight victims of stalking said they lost five or more days of work citing fear for their safety or needing time to obtain a restraining order or testify in court.

Employers can and should be first in line to provide support and protection to their workers -- not punishments that further jeopardize their safety and economic security. And while many employers express concern for domestic violence, very few take action. Nearly two-thirds of corporate executives consider domestic violence a major problem in our society, with more than half citing its harmful impact on productivity. However, only 13% believed that their companies should address domestic violence. This is where they are getting it wrong.

To be sure, there are costs to implementing paid sick days and paid family leave policies. But the positive outcomes of improved employee performance, productivity, safety, retention, and goodwill far outweigh the costs of implementing steps to prevent violence in the first place.

Employers like Netflix and Microsoft have been showing leadership on paid parental leave policies, higher minimum wages, and paid sick days even when not required by law. It's a small step further to ensure that survivors of domestic and sexual violence and stalking have access to paid time off, which will help improve their economic security, and, ultimately, save lives.

With growing momentum from campaigns like the Fight for $15 to improve the lives of low-wage workers -- who often don’t have the time or resources needed to seek refuge or access medical care—we have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure standardized paid leave for survivors of violence. Several states, cities, counties, and individual companies have already passed laws or policies providing domestic and sexual violence survivors with paid leave.

This standard should be universal for all workers throughout the country. Individuals, companies, candidates, and government officials have a moral imperative to expand paid sick days, paid family leave, and other supports to help prevent and respond to violence. Only when we provide a path for recovery and recourse will we be able to make strides toward reducing violence and its impacts.

Maya Raghu is a senior attorney with Futures Without Violence and an expert on the intersection of the workplace effects of gender-based violence.