Leave for Domestic Violence Survivors:  An Issue Whose Time Has Come

By Denise J. Bleau

In the United States, 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). This equates to more than 10 million women and men in a year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Victims of domestic violence may require leave from work to seek safe shelter, seek a protection order from the Court, work with their employer on safety issues in the workplace, or possibly seek new schooling for their children.

Effective April 1, 2019, employers in New Zealand will be required to provide 10 days of paid leave per year to survivors of domestic violence. The leave provides victims with time to heal, go to court, keep their children safe, and escape their abusive situation. This leave is separate from annual holiday or sick leave. New Zealand’s new law also allows victims to ask for flexible working arrangements and makes discrimination against victims illegal.

As the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893, New Zealand has a history of progressive legislation—but surprisingly, New Zealand is the second country to pass such a measure. The Philippines was the first, passing a law granting 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence victims in 2004.

In Florida, an employer must permit employees to request and take up to 3 days of leave from work in any 12-month period if the employee or a family member is the victim of domestic violence or sexual violence. While the leave must be provided, the leave may be with or without pay, at the discretion of the employer.

According to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, advocates received 122,999 domestic violence hotline calls from individual seeking emergency services, information, and safety planning assistance in 2016. They note, “Many more survivors of domestic violence are not reporting their abusers to the police or accessing domestic violence services due to reasons such as shame, fear, or being prevented from doing so by their abusers. For this reason, we may never know the true extent of abuse in our country and in our state.”

According to an ABC News article by Katie Kindelan in July 2018, Rachel Graber, NCADV’s director of public policy, advised, “Victims of violence lose approximately 8 million days of work annually, equating to 32,000 full-time jobs. Economic insecurity is one of the biggest barriers to many victims and survivors escaping from abusive partners, and access to safe leave for victims and survivors is vital to the safety and security of millions of survivors.”

Under the law in Florida, employers can choose to pay for leave for victims of domestic violation in their employ to encourage the employee to take advantage of the leave to alter their current circumstances. Depending on the size of the employer, the employee’s length of time with the employer, and the extent of the employee’s physical and emotional injuries resulting from the domestic violence, the employee also may be able to seek leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

While Florida law (F.S. §741.313) requires employers to provide 3 days of leave and does not require employers to pay the employee for this time off, employers may lawfully provide additional paid leave for domestic violence victims in excess of the 3 days provided under Florida law. It is unlikely that 3 days is sufficient to meet the emergent needs of victims of serious domestic violence to change their circumstances. Employers should consider offering a minimum of 7 paid work days to employees who experience domestic violence. Making such a policy change lets the employees know they are valued and lets potential abusers in the workplace know that the employer will not condone such behavior.

As an attorney representing and advising employers throughout Florida on a regular basis, I am confident this small concession to empower these victims of domestic abuse will reap great rewards for the employer as well as the employees. If the employees are able to act immediately to address their needs and better their circumstances, there is a much better chance the employees will come back to work more focused and productive.

Denise Bleau, an equity partner at Ward Damon, manages the firm’s litigation department. She is devoted to ensuring each client of the firm receives the highest level of service through dedicated attorneys and staff working together to advocate for the firm’s clients, skillfully and with integrity.  If you have any questions about domestic violence leave or other employment matters, please contact Denise at dbleau@warddamon.com or call 561-842-3000.

2 thoughts on “Leave for Domestic Violence Survivors:  An Issue Whose Time Has Come

  1. This is the TRUTH:

    “It is unlikely that 3 days is sufficient to meet the emergent needs of victims of serious domestic violence to change their circumstances.”

    Employers should consider workplace violence concerns in developing their domestic violence victim support policies. They must also consider the balance between employee privacy and the greater good of the entire workforce.

    I advise organizations to work with their Human Services departments in developing policy and communication plans to proactively address any security issues that may arise.

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