New law provides sick leave for domestic violence victims

Posted at 9:45 AM, Nov 24, 2016

A new voter-approved law that raises Arizona's minimum wage to $12 by 2020 has a lesser-known section that lets victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking take paid sick leave to manage the effects of those events.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports that Proposition 206 will let workers use paid sick leave for medical attention, services from a domestic violence program, counseling, relocation or legal services that may be required after experiencing domestic abuse. They can also use paid time off to help a family member who may need these services.

Shannon Rich, director of public policy at Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said safety and economic security are often linked for survivors of domestic violence. Many survivors weigh the decision to leave an abusive situation based on financially providing for themselves and their kids, and they may risk staying in order to meet their financial needs, Rich said.

Now, businesses sometimes may allow their employees to use sick time for domestic violence, but others may not, Rich said. The change in law will provide a uniform policy for all employers, she said.

"It's going to be an amazing resource for survivors," Rich said.

The voter-approved measure requires employers to allow full-time workers to earn up to five paid sick days per year, though employers with fewer than 15 workers must only provide three sick days per year. Workers will be able to use sick days for illnesses, including those of family members, and public health emergencies.

Current state law requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow victims of a crime to take time off work to "obtain or attempt to obtain an order of protection, an injunction against harassment or any other injunctive relief to help ensure the health, safety or welfare of the victim or the victim's child." The employer can't fire an employee for exercising these rights, but the time off doesn't need to be paid.

A handful of other states have paid sick leave policies for domestic violence, known as "safe time" policies, and several cities have enacted policies as well. Washington state also passed a sick leave law on Election Day that includes provisions for paid leave for domestic violence.

Garrick Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which opposed Proposition 206, said the "safe time" provision was rarely, if ever, discussed when the chamber and proponents of the ballot measure debated the proposition.

Taylor said the chamber opposed the measure because of its dramatic wage hike and paid-leave provision. "But the reason for our opposition to the initiative did not include its provisions for victims of domestic violence," Taylor said.

The chamber would prefer that issues like paid leave for domestic violence victims were handled between employer and employee, he said.