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New minimum wage law provides paid time off for domestic violence victims

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A lesser-known provision of the minimum wage ballot measure passed by Arizona voters this month will allow domestic violence victims to take paid sick leave to handle issues caused by the violence.

Proposition 206, which was approved by 58 percent of voters on Nov. 8, will increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020. Prop. 206 also 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.

Currently, Arizona employers are not required to provide paid sick leave. Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families, the backers of Prop. 206, estimate about 45 percent of those who work for private employers in Arizona will get paid time off for the first time under the ballot measure.

The proposition also will allow victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, abuse or stalking to take paid time off from work to manage the effects of those events.

Workers will be able to 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.

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.

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.

A study conducted in 2006 by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence found 64 percent of domestic violence victims said their work was affected due to distractions, harassment by their partner while at work, fear of unexpected visits and the potential they could lose their jobs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence victims across the U.S. lose almost 8 million days of paid work.

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 group hasn’t tried to push such provisions at the Arizona Legislature, but some cities, like Tucson and Tempe, have had discussions about passing similar measures, she said.

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 Prop. 206, said the “safe time” provision was rarely, if ever, discussed when the chamber and proponents of the ballot measure debated the proposition.

“We opposed the proposition strongly because of its dramatic wage hike and its paid leave mandate. … 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.

“However, if the proponents (of Prop. 206) had thought that these safe time provisions were so important, we would have been happy to have that discussion at the Legislature. That’s usually where these issues get hashed out,” Taylor said.

Rep. Celeste Plumlee, D-Tempe, a social worker who is a survivor of domestic violence, said getting paid time off to handle issues stemming from domestic violence is “absolutely paramount” to the health of the victim and their family.

“Just to have that security of knowing they’re covered if they need to take time off and go do that, it’s so important to their safety and well-being,” Plumlee said.

The fact that the provisions for “safe time” were included in Prop. 206 shows how much awareness has grown for victims of domestic violence in recent years, she said.

“It’s really encouraging for those of us trying to really affect change in the whole domestic violence and sexual violence that this is something that’s being looked at so thoughtfully and so carefully,” Plumlee said.

Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said the fact that the leave would be paid is important because it doesn’t force victims to choose between getting paid or going to court to protect themselves.

“If there are supportive workplace policies that allow a victim to participate in prosecution, conviction is more likely, leading to increased safety,” Hobbs said.

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