The following letter was sent by the executive directors of Jane Doe Inc. and Waltham-based REACH Beyond Domestic Violence
Sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking victims/survivors should not have to choose between immediate health or safety and continued employment to support their families. But imagine that an abuser is interfering with the victim’s ability to work by preventing the victim from going to work, harassment at work or sabotaging other aspects such as transportation or child care. Or that the victim/survivor needs time off from work to seek medical attention or attend court hearings but fears losing the job as a result.
These are real examples of how violence can interfere with the victim’s/survivor’s employment—often their only access to economic stability. It’s estimated that victims of intimate partner violence lose 8 million days of work each year, the equivalent of 32,000 full-time positions. Nearly half of sexual assault survivors surveyed in one study lost their jobs or were forced to quit in the aftermath of assaults. In 2007, between 15.2% - 27.6% of women surveyed lost a job because of abuse. In 2009, a Department of Justice study found that 1 in 8 stalking victims who had a job lost time from work. More than half of the victims lost 5 or more days of work.
As victims struggle to maintain employment as a result of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, employers are also impacted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the annual cost of lost productivity due to domestic violence equals $727.8 million. Employers recognize this—one study reported 66% of employers believe that addressing domestic violence experienced by employees would benefit their company’s financial performance. By allowing victims access to time off, either paid or unpaid, employers can assist employees in getting the help and support they need with the peace of mind of not being penalized for loss of work. When survivors are able to access medical care, counseling and other advocacy services, they are more able to meet the demands of employment. When they are able to have time off to attend court hearings or meetings with attorneys, prosecution of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking crimes improve.
We’ve learned a lot from working with survivors about what kind of assistance they need to maintain financial security and social support systems that their job provides. Victims are more likely to be able to separate from an abuser when they have a higher degree of economic independence. Providing employment leave to address issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking experienced by them or a family member is one place to start.
Representative Thomas Stanley and Senator Cynthia Creem have sponsored a bill (S853/H1764) to establish employment leave and safety remedies to victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. This bill would require employers to permit their employees up to 15 days of leave from work per year. The law will impact employers of 50 or more employees, and individuals will need to provide some form of documentation in order to be eligible for the leave. This bill is a priority for the membership of Jane Doe Inc. because of the remedies it provides for victims and survivors seeking safety and stability.
Through a combination of public policy, individual advocacy and community resources, we can help victims make choices that provide for personal safety and economic security.
Laura Van Zandt
REACH Beyond Domestic Violence
Member of JDI Policy Committee