City abuse leave should be statewide

City Council approved up to eight weeks of unpaid leave for victims of domestic abuse. This law sets an admirable precedent.

You get 12 unpaid workweeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for having a child.

If you adopt a child or you or someone in your family becomes seriously ill, you get 12 weeks.

If your spouse beats you or you are the victim of rape, you get nothing. Unless, that is, the beating is serious enough that it puts you in the hospital and qualifies you for medical leave. Otherwise, your job is at risk under the same labor law that awards 12 weeks for kids and cancer.

Bruises from being beaten or irremovable emotional scars from suffering sexual violence?

Nothing. U.S. Department of Labor law essentially says walk it off by largely ignoring it.

But now, under “Entitlement to Leave Due to Domestic or Sexual Violence,” an ordinance just passed in Philadelphia, employers are required to allow victims of domestic and sexual abuse up to eight unpaid weeks of leave per year.

Sexual violence aside, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men per year are physically assaulted by an intimate partner, according to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence.

You’d think that with this many people becoming victims of domestic abuse alone, there would be some sort of statute in place nationally to protect their jobs for a period of time while they leave to deal with and heal from the pain caused by abuse.

Last Monday, Philadelphia took a step in the right direction, but what about the rest of the country?

“Unfortunately, the ordinance doesn’t cover employees in Montgomery County,” said Beth Sturman, executive director of Laurel House, a comprehensive domestic violence agency just outside Philadelphia. “I think the ordinance is a great beginning, and I would love if we had something similar in this county.”

Sturman said other than the obvious consequences of domestic abuse and sexual violence that could interfere with the ability to work, situations can become complicated.

“You’re trying to figure out how you’re going to take care of these kids and keep your job, especially if the [abuser] is incarcerated,” she said. “Our women worry a lot about if they’ll lose [their jobs]. Maybe now, all of a sudden, they’re on public transportation, or they’re living farther away for safety reasons [or maybe they] don’t have their briefcase or all their work clothes.”

The list of life disruptions caused by abuse goes on, and though Sturman praised the passage of the ordinance, she also pointed out that though it isn’t legally mandated, she has not seen victims of abuse in counties without laws have any trouble negotiating time off from work.

“Often, domestic violence has been impacting that employee for a long time, and they keep showing up for work,” she said. “A lot of times for an employer, it’s a relief that it’s finally out in the open.”

Luckily, for victims of abuse in Philadelphia, the battle is somewhat won. Regardless of how understanding employers can be when it comes to domestic or sexual violence, this sort of leave should have always been mandated. How is abuse any less life-disrupting than having a serious illness or losing a family member? The pain, hardship and suffering are all there in those cases, so why, then, is the law generally not written to be on the victim’s side?

Philadelphia, hopefully, has set a trend and paved the way for these kinds of laws.

“Just like with any other situation, it could be a last resort,” Sturman said. “Ideally, the employer and employee are going to work together so that he or she doesn’t lose the job, but it’s always nice to have the law on your side in case you have to fall back on it, so I’d like to see it extended.”

Morgan Zalot can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. I know this is a sensitive subject so I’m sometimes reluctant to weigh in on these issues, but since you posted it I’m assuming you want people to respond.

    “If your spouse beats you or you are the victim of rape, you get nothing.”

    As a former police officer, I’ve had to investigate many domestic violence calls. Many people know that they’re some of the worst calls a cop can receive because they tend to be so unpredictable. When emotions between such intimate people ignite into violence, not only are their actions unpredictable but their interpretation of one another’s actions and intentions after the event are sometimes impossible to completely detangle.

    And therein lies the reason that most employers can’t and should not give paid leave for domestic dispute cases, i.e., there are so many subjective in impossible to prove variables for each case that we cannot expect employers to be qualified enough to (1) accurately identify the signs of domestic violence and (2) put their company’s in financial jeopardy by allowing any couple that has a fight to take paid leave.

    In the cases of pregnancy and adoption, those are very finite events in terms of the time that is devoted to the pregnancy and the time devoted to the adoption process. There is no gray area or subjectivity involved, and as a result, the employers can have confidence that a person really is pregnant or a person really is in the process of adopting a child; thus the paid leave will be confined to a specific time frame.

    In the case of domestic violence, it typically happens over and over and over again. So in addition to all the subjectivity, even if an employer was qualified to accurately identify the signs of domestic violence, why should the employer pay for the irresponsibility of two people that could potentially go on for months or years?

    In my humble opinion and based on nearly two decades of experience with domestic violence, it’s unfair and unrealistic to impose that responsibility on an employer. Moreover, it creates so many ways for people to abuse the company’s resources and undermines the feeling of personal accountability that is causing the violence in the first place.

    These days I focus on helping young people and communities prevent crime and violence on a much larger scale. If you ever have some extra time, please stop by and let us know what you think about the Club Watch Community Connection here:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for reading mine.

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