Domestic Violence Is a Workplace Issue

Cristen Conger

Courtesy: Charitystub

The economics of domestic violence are rarely talked about but play a critical role in perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Financial dependence can perpetuate an abusive relationship, as leaving would mean facing homelessness. In fact, economic abuse is a common form of intimate partner violence that includes withholding money, ensuring that no property or credit cards are in the victim's name, or refusing to allow the victim to work.

Domestic violence also can pose a direct threat to one's employment. In the United States, victims lose an estimated 137 hours of work each year for domestic violence-related reasons. Not only can the trauma of abuse at home hamper workplace productivity, abusers commonly disrupt victims' workdays by intentionally making them late, harassing them with threatening phone calls and emails and sometimes showing up unannounced to their work sites. By one estimate from the U.S. General Accounting Office, 25 to 50 percent of domestic violence victims reported losing their jobs for reasons stemming from intimate partner violence.

Moreover, when victims leave their abusers, it often demands time off from work to consult with law enforcement, relocate, attend court and so forth. Fewer than half of all states, including California, Colorado and Illinois, mandate that private employers must provide domestic violence leave (typically unpaid). Statutes also vary widely in terms of permissible length of leave time allowed, authorized uses of domestic violence leave and employer size limits on enforcement (i.e. small companies are less legally compelled to provide it).

Even if a victim doesn't live in a state that provides for domestic violence leave, she or he may have legal protection under the Family Medical Leave Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A federal bill was introduced to Congress to amend the Violence Against Women Act to outlaw employment discrimination against domestic violence victims, but it was diverted to a subcommittee.

Considering the widespread impacts of domestic violence on job loss, and how those underlying economic factors can strongly influence decisions to stay with abusive partners, clearly more needs to be done. In order to effectively address domestic violence, communities and governments must build stronger support networks for victims, including across-the-board "safe days" for employees.

Perhaps the U.S. government and labor leaders should take a cue from Australia. Australian Stuff Mom Never Told You listener Rosie wrote in to tell us about an important employment initiative afoot in her country to support the economic well-being of domestic violence victims:

The trade union movement, spearheaded by my union - the Victorian branch of the Australian Services' Union, has been pushing to get a special category of leave included in employment agreements. This "domestic violence leave" is a special category of paid leave to allow victims of domestic violence time to attend court and other appointments, move house, or other urgent requirements that being a victim of domestic violence may cause. This additional category of leave allows people to not have to use their holiday time on decidedly unpleasant tasks like getting a restraining order. It also keeps employers mindful that their employees have lives outside of the office that can interrupt or impact on their work. The first employment agreement to include this category of leave was negotiated by a city council in 2011... The Australian Council of Trade Unions is lodging a claim at the Fair Work Commission to secure 10 days paid domestic violence leave as a minimum entitlement for all employees. As a unionist and feminist, I am very proud to be part of a movement that is doing something to support people in abusive relationships, and allow them to get the things done so they can continue on in their lives.

What is it going to take in the U.S. for similar initiatives to stop being diverted to congressional committees and approached on a piecemeal state by state basis, and comprehensive support for the affected women and families to begin?