When Arizona voters passed Proposition 206 last November, they knew they were raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. What they may not have realized was they were also giving workers “safe leave” – paid time off to deal with issues relating to domestic or sexual violence.
“The rule of law needs to be taken from exact words,” says Tomas Robles, campaign chair of Prop 206, also known as the Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families. “We had to make sure it was clearly written to protect those victims that may work for a company that says, ‘Well, the law doesn’t say I have to give you time off for that.’”
Unfortunately, retaliation (including being fired) happens often to employees dealing with domestic violence, says Shannon Rich, director of public policy at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. And if the statistics are any indication – one in four women and one in seven men experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control – then a lot of workers are facing “the choice between getting paid and getting safe,” she says. The needs of people in those circumstances run the gamut, from checking into a shelter to going to court to obtain an order of protection against an abuser.
Beginning July 1, employers must provide earned sick time to deal with mental or physical illness or injury, care of a sick family member, a public health emergency or domestic violence, sexual violence, abuse or stalking. Under the law, employees are guaranteed a minimum of one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours annually if they work at businesses with 15 or more employees or 24 hours at companies with less than 15. According to A Better Balance, a national nonprofit that works to enact pro-worker legislation, Arizona is now one of seven states (and more than 30 localities) that has such a sick leave policy.
Prop 206 supporter and Tempe City Councilmember Lauren Kuby says while “there are definitely costs” associated with paid leave, the “sense of Armageddon” projected by the naysayers is overblown. There’s a presumption, she says, “that somehow the business will explode and close down because there’s a humane workplace… [but the employee] is more likely to stay if they’re appreciative and grateful to their employer.”
Stephanie Vasquez, who owns Fair Trade Café in Downtown Phoenix, says “it’s a perspective thing.” Rather than “focusing on my bottom line, I choose to look at it as [my employees] are human beings... If I was in one of those situations, I would hope that an employer would help protect me.”
But this contention begs the question: Just how involved should employers be in their employees’ personal matters? Whether it’s a stomach bug or worse, “people are uncomfortable talking about why they need time off work,” says Marcy Karin, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia and former director of Arizona State University’s Work-Life Law and Policy Clinic. So often domestic and sexual violence is seen as “a personal issue,” Karin says, but to ensure workers’ safety, employers should establish a more open dialogue.
Edgar Olivo, president of Phoenix-based Compass Career and Business Solutions, suggests drafting a more inclusive employee manual with a fully fleshed-out paid time off policy. There are myriad web resources to help with this, such as model workplace policies from national resource center Workplaces Respond to Domestic & Sexual Violence. Invest in your employees, Olivo says, “and they’ll invest in you.”
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