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"Educating our communities and elected officials about the needs of survivors in our local cities and towns requires year round focus. JDI is our pathway to informing and influencing the state and national agenda to end sexual and domestic violence." ~ Karen Cavanaugh, JDI board member and Executive Director of Womanshelter/Companeras, pictured here with a JDI delegation meeting with Congressman Niki Tsongas

Senate gives 1st OK to domestic violence (and sexual violence and stalking) bill

The law would require state employers with more than 50 employees to give up to 15 days of leave in any 12-month period to someone suffering from domestic violence abuse.  Domestic violence victims would be guaranteed leave from their jobs under legislation that received initial approval in the state Senate yesterday and has the backing of two major employer groups.

The law would require Massachusetts employers with more than 50 employees to give up to 15 days of leave in any 12-month period to someone suffering from domestic violence. Immediate family members of victims would also be eligible for leave. The bill does not mandate that the leave be paid.

Victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault would be eligible for leave, intended to allow them to appear in court, receive medical attention or counseling, victim services, housing or legal assistance, or handle other issues directly related to the abuse. Employees would first be required to exhaust their vacation, sick days or personal leave, but employers can waive this requirement.

Maureen Gallagher, policy director at Jane Doe Inc., said the bill addresses a key need of victims of domestic violence: knowing their jobs are secure so they can find the courage to leave their abusers. Jane Doe is a statewide coalition working against sexual assault and domestic violence.

“If they lose their job because they have missed work, that sets them back,’’ she said. “They may return to an unsafe situation. This is a key economic empowerment tool.’’

Gallagher said abuse counselors at Jane Doe have heard many stories about victims losing jobs or fearing the possibility, making it hard for them to get services they need.

State Senator Cynthia Creem, Democrat of Newton and one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said statistics show that 25 to 50 percent of violence victims have lost a job because of absences stemming from abuse. Victims report being harassed for missing days or are often afraid to tell their employers why they need to miss work.

“This would be a further protection to them,’’ Creem said.

A similar bill passed in the Senate last session but never emerged for a House vote, ending the session in the House Ways and Means Committee. The full Senate is expected to debate the bill Thursday during a scheduled formal session. Creem said the Senate is taking the bill up early in the second year of the session to give the House plenty of time to review it.

Gallagher said she is unsure why the leave bill has never made it to the governor’s desk, considering that there is no known opposition to the idea.

The bill is sponsored by Creem in the Senate and has a handful of sponsors in the House, including state Representatives Frank Smizik, Democrat of Brookline; Ruth Balser, Democrat of Newton; Gloria Fox, Democrat of Roxbury; and Denise Andrews, Democrat of Orange.

“We are talking with representatives and building up peoples’ understanding about this bill,’’ Gallagher said. “We are hopeful we will find those champions and get it on their radar.’’

Some statewide trade organizations and employer groups support the bill, including Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which raised concerns in the past, and the Retailers’ Association of Massachusetts.

John Regan, executive vice president for government affairs, said Associated Industries worked with representatives from Jane Doe Inc. to address employer issues.


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