On Oct. 23, 2008, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously approved Councilmember William Greenlee’s bill requiring businesses employing more than 50 people to provide up to eight weeks of unpaid leave for workers who are survivors of domestic violence. Businesses employing less than 50 people must provide up to 4 weeks of unpaid leave for domestic violence survivors.
In June, WLP Managing Attorney Terry Fromson testified in front of City Council in support of the bill, saying at the time:
The Women’s Law Project knows firsthand how important adoption of this bill is to victims of abuse. Through both our telephone counseling service and policy initiatives, we hear from women who are unable to obtain protection orders or seek the assistance of other social services to help them address the abuse to which they are subjected because their jobs do not give them time off for such activities. Unable to risk losing their ability to support their families, these individuals continue to live in fear and suffer abuse without legal protection or other support. Those who take time off from work to address the domestic violence even though they lack leave time, risk loss of employment, destitution, and homelessness.
Except for the domestic abuse hotline and emergency services in Philadelphia, the courts and most social services operate on a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday schedule. While someone faced with imminent danger may call 911 or file a petition for an Emergency Protection From Abuse order at any time, anyone seeking a final order of protection or relief from the criminal justice system must ultimately appear in court during the work week, typically for many hours, and often on a repeated basis. Women seeking such orders have told us they simply could not take more time off from work to return to court again. If the plaintiff does not appear for a hearing, the court dismisses the petition and no relief is granted. This bill, if adopted, will enable victims of abuse to seek legal and other protection. …
We anticipate that the business community may assert concerns about misuse or overuse of the leave provided by this legislation. This concern has been raised in other venues in which we have worked to confront discrimination against and achieve accommodation for battered women: insurance discrimination and waivers of welfare work requirements. We have seen no abuse in those arenas. In conversations with state insurance departments around the country, I have been assured that the number of individuals seeking relief under statutes prohibiting insurance discrimination against battered individuals has been extremely low. In our work in Pennsylvania on implementation of the Family Violence Option, which allows domestic violence victims to be excused from work requirements if domestic violence impedes their ability to comply, we have also seen no abuse. Despite estimates that domestic violence victims make up 40-60% of the TANF population, the number of TANF recipients in Pennsylvania seeking to be excused from work requirements is very small, only approximately 2 % or less of the TANF adult population statewide. Philadelphia’s numbers are even lower, with the percentage of the city’s welfare population seeking work waivers consistently below 1%. (Department of Public Welfare, unpublished data April -August, 2007). Just as fears of false allegations of domestic violence have not been realized in these situations, we do not anticipate false claims in this one.
The reasons are the same: battered women want to work and need to work to support themselves and their families. They are not likely to take unpaid time off for reasons other than those provided for by the legislation or for longer than necessary because they cannot afford to. In addition, victims of domestic violence do not easily disclose domestic violence to anyone, let alone their employer: shame and fear of loss of benefits and employment are a strong deterrent to disclosure of domestic violence. Because requesting domestic violence leave requires such a disclosure, we do not expect domestic violence victims to request leave unless it is absolutely necessary for them to be excused from work.
We applaud the Philadelphia City Council for passing this important legislation guaranteeing that survivors of domestic violence will not fear losing their jobs on top of all the other stresses they experience in their situations. We hope that Mayor Nutter will promptly sign the bill.
For more information, the bill in its entirety can be found here in PDF format.
Terry’s complete testimony can be found here, also in PDF format.