Spokane has an incredible opportunity to stand on the right side of domestic violence history this year by adopting an equitable safe and sick leave policy.
Many are not aware of this because of a narrow media focus on the “sick” part of the city of Spokane’s proposed “sick and safe leave” policy. It should provide an opportunity for all employees of Spokane businesses to earn paid time off to seek shelter, medical treatment, counseling, or law enforcement action related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which one partner establishes and maintains power and control over another. As I educate companies in our area about how to recognize the signs of domestic violence among their employees, I often must remind them that RCW 49.76 has provided unpaid time off for survivors since 2008. This seven-year knowledge gap reminds me that once a paid safe leave policy passes, we must take a robust educational approach. This will ensure that every Spokane business understands their responsibilities clearly and stays in compliance to provide all survivors paid safe leave.
Why is this important to survivors?
• “I know I can take time off for court, but if I do, I won’t be able to buy groceries this week. Last time, my abuser didn’t show up and I had to go back to court two weeks later anyway.”
• “I am about to lose my job because he won’t stop texting and calling me at work. I am out of money and I need to be able to support my kids. My boss says that I can take more time off but I have to find coverage for my shifts and there are only two other employees so no one is available.”
• “Since we moved to the shelter, I need a day off to get a counselor’s help to make my son feel safe when his father has unsupervised visitation this weekend. I can’t afford to get him school clothes unless I go to work. It might be best if I give up and go back to my ex so he will never be alone with my son and I can make things normal for him again.”
These are the types of stories we hear from clients about the catch-22 they face under current Washington provisions for unpaid safe leave related to domestic violence. Many clients return to abusive partners who have left them without housing and financial resources.
Friends, family members, and employers hope, and often expect, that survivors will leave abusive partners. We want all survivors to be safe, productive at work, and able to care for their children. It can seem like the best place to achieve these goals would be away from an abuser. However well intended, this perspective ignores the fact that there are many components to safety. Economic security is vitally important to survivors. Abusive partners frequently chip away at every bit of economic security survivors have apart from maintaining the relationship. When we require survivors to take unpaid time off to seek safety, inequity between the abuser and the abused intensifies.
The YWCA of Spokane’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence Program served 12,074 people last year. Domestic violence-related homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace because going to work is a predictable behavior when other routines have changed. Finding safe shelter, attending court proceedings, visiting doctors in the case of physical trauma, moving children to new schools, and attending counseling appointments to take those first fragile steps toward healing all take time. Requiring our city’s citizens to accomplish these difficult tasks while losing pay is untenable.
Clearly, unpaid leave does not do enough for survivors. Because all of Spokane’s domestic violence survivors require access to paid safe leave, regardless of company size, no Spokane business should be exempt from providing it. I know from years of experience that together, we are a small city with a big heart. We care about all of our citizens and we will do the right thing.
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