Should domestic abuse victims be given paid leave?
Sarah Evans, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Family team, comments on growing support for employers to provide paid leave to those rebuilding their lives after experiencing domestic abuse.
On 25th November, Safer Cornwall launched its 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. As an attendee of Safer Cornwall meetings, along with other solicitors and representatives from the police and domestic abuse charities, I was interested to see that the theme that they chose for the awareness-raising event was the role of businesses in supporting employees who have experienced domestic abuse.
This is a topical theme to focus on as there is a growing international movement to support people being granted paid leave from work if they are in the process of leaving an abusive relationship.
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New domestic abuse legislation in New Zealand
The issue reached the headlines in July 2018 when New Zealand passed legislation granting paid leave specifically for people who have suffered domestic abuse. The new law gives people the right to claim 10 days off work, at full pay, so they can focus on getting the help they need and putting practical steps in place to enable them to leave their spouse or partner. While New Zealand was the first country to introduce such a law at a national level, similar legislation is in place in Manitoba and Ontario in Canada.
Although such steps have not been taken here in the UK, there have been some interesting developments by individual employers. In February, South Ayrshire Council became the first employer in Europe to introduce special leave provision for staff who have experienced domestic abuse. Earlier this year, Welsh Women’s Aid Chief Executive Eleri Butler called for a change to the law to provide paid leave for domestic abuse victims. She also highlighted the importance of employers offering flexible working arrangements to allow people in this situation to make appointments with the police, a lawyer or support service.
How paid leave could help domestic abuse victims
Having supported victims over many years, I have seen time and time again just how difficult it is for people to rebuild their lives after experiencing domestic abuse.
There is the need to find new housing, financial matters to resolve and arrangements to be made for benefits. If children are involved, this brings with it a whole other set of practical issues that need to be dealt with promptly. How can people possibly have enough time to reorganise their lives in this way, while also turning up for work every day?
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In addition, I know how much people in this situation benefit from attending support sessions run by local charities, such as the SUsie project. The support offered by these organisations can be vital in helping people deal with the emotional trauma of domestic violence, and in getting the information they need to get their lives back on track. It can be impossible for working people to attend these sessions, unless they have a sympathetic employer who will grant them leave.
Dealing with the aftermath of domestic abuse is challenging in so many ways. The time victims need to rebuild their lives is an issue that has perhaps been overlooked in the past. Many employers are undoubtedly supportive of staff members being in this situation – perhaps offering compassionate leave or flexible working to allow them to attend appointments. However, the introduction of paid leave specifically for people who have experienced domestic abuse could help ensure everyone gets the time they need.