Trending on the East Coast and spreading across the country are new Safe Leave laws. These laws require business to offer employees paid (or unpaid) leave to attend to their needs in the event they or their family members become the victim of domestic violence, stalking or human trafficking. A new law in Westchester County, New York outlines what is required of employers in the jurisdiction. Other cities and states either have or are considering similar regulations.
Domestic violence rates have risen at the state and national level, according to some reports. It’s estimated 10 million men and women are abused by their partner annually. That equates to about 20 people per minute in the US.
Assistance for these workers as they seek relief from shelters, law enforcement and the courts can be a first step in assuring safety. Workplace laws that require job protected or paid leave can be critical in helping these victims take necessary steps that may save lives.
What is safe leave?
Safe leave provisions under state or local laws allow workers to take job-protected time off to attend to their needs if they, or an immediate family member in some cases, are the victim of domestic violence, stalking or human trafficking. Under the Westchester County regulation, which was an addition to its just enacted Earned Sick Leave law, beginning in October of this year employees will be entitled to an additional 40 hours of paid time off in the event they are victimized.
These laws may be timely: victims of domestic violence are estimated to lose approximately 137 hours of work annually. It’s estimated overall that 8 million work hours are lost every year in the US to domestic violence.
Where is safe leave required by law?
In addition to Westchester County, many states and cities have enacted similar laws.
Rhode Island Safe Leave
The Rhode Island Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act took effect in 2018. It provides employees the right to utilize sick leave to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking they or a family member may fall victim to. Companies with more than 18 employees must provide 1 hour of paid leave for every 35 hours worked. For less than 18 employees, the same amount of leave allowances are required, but the time off may be unpaid. Employees may accrue up to 32 hours of leave in 2019: 40 hours per year from 2020 on.
New Jersey Safe Leave
The New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act) covers business with 25 or more employees and builds on the state’s Family Leave Act. Businesses with 25 or more staff members are required to provide up to 20 days of unpaid leave during a 12 month period if they or a member of their family are the victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offence. Eligible employees will have satisfied a one year anniversary with the company at a minimum of 1,000 hours worked during the past year. Employees are allowed to use any accrued paid leave during the 20 day period.
New York City Safe Leave
Also expanding on paid sick leave, in 2018 New York City Paid Sick and Safe Leave law includes leave available to victims of domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking. The law applies to all businesses in the city; however those with 5 or more employees who work at least 80 hours per year must provide paid sick leave. Smaller businesses can provide unpaid leave. Employees earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours work to a maximum of 40 hours per year.
Maryland Safe Leave
Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act extends its sick leave regulations to include employees or their family members who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employees earn leave based on hours worked: one hour earned for every 30 hours worked. In the state, employers with 15 or more staff members must provide paid time off: smaller companies must provide unpaid leave.
Minneapolis Safe Leave
The Minneapolis Sick and Safe Time Ordinance requires businesses with 6 or more employees provide victims of domestic or sexual assault or their family members with paid time off. For smaller business, the time off may be unpaid. The city requires one paid hour earned for every 30 worked with an annual cap at 48 hours.
Where are safe leave laws pending?
In Nebraska a new bill, the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplace Act is being considered. The proposed law would allow employees to earn sick/safe time and utilize it in the event of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.
Many other states and municipalities may be considering amending their current paid sick leave mandates to include “safe leave” provisions. These would only require updating the language of existing laws to allow workers to use earned time off in the event of domestic abuse, stalking or human trafficking. Others are considering or crafting stand-alone safe leave legislation.
Is safe leave required?
Currently there are no federal mandates to provide sick or safe leave for employees. Some victims of domestic violence may be covered under the FMLA, if their physical or psychological injuries as a result of such violence require extended time away from work. However, there is no mandate at the federal level, nor in any state that hasn’t yet enacted such a law, to offer unpaid or paid time off for employees who are victims of these crimes.
Domestic Violence and the Workplace
Domestic violence and stalking may be more prevalent than understood, but is largely a taboo subject in the workplace For employees who are victimized, whether there are laws providing them paid or unpaid leave or sick time, the responsibility for business to maintain the privacy of their situation and information is vital.
Beyond maintaining an employee’s private information, there are steps business can take to help. Resources are available to help organizations craft policies and provide outreach and assistance to workers in need. Business may be able to provide services through insurance providers, links to hotlines and other resources as well as support for the employee.
Domestic violence, unfortunately, sometimes spills into the workplace, as frustrated partners may only find access to their victims at their place of employment. Twenty-five percent of large private companies reported an incident of domestic violence, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Business should be as prepared as possible with policies, safety protocols and procedures in place in the event of a workplace violence incident whether it’s related to an employee or simply a random act. Organizations should do whatever possible to help employees protect themselves and their families, and potentially their coworkers and employers.
This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.