Few states give paid leave for domestic or sexual violence. Vermont could become one of them

By Ciara McEneany | Community News Service

House Democrats’ latest push for a paid leave bill comes with a new addition: It would provide paid time off for people experiencing sexual or domestic violence.

The bill, H.66, would require employers to offer paid leave, separate from the traditional categories of medical and family leave, for survivors of sexual or domestic abuse.

That would allow survivors or their guardians to take the time off work they need to deal with the trauma of sexual or domestic abuse and its fallout, according to Kara Casey, director of economic empowerment for the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.


Kara Casey is director of economic empowerment for the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“I think the key is that it’s paid leave,” Casey said. “So they wouldn’t risk losing income because of taking time off.”

Right now, survivors have limited leave options. Crime victims have job protection to take unpaid leave to attend depositions and other court matters. Vermonters who are survivors of domestic and sexual abuse or stalking are allowed by law to use their paid leave to arrange for legal and social services, counseling and medical care for themselves or for their families.

The new bill would guarantee survivors can access medical care, mental health services, legal services and planning for steps forward with fewer financial worries. Getting proper resources and care can take survivors years for victims, said Anne Ward, executive director of Mosaic Vermont, a social services organization located in Barre.

With paid leave, she said, survivors of abuse wouldn’t face an extra burden.

“The economic impact of missing work means that they may also have to look at losing their housing situation, or face food insecurity, or not be able to continue to pay for childcare for other children,” Ward said, “which makes accessing resources additionally hard.”

Nearly all survivors of domestic abuse have been subjected to economic abuse — an abuser domineering their finances, for example — which can hamper their ability to gain and maintain employment, save money and build credit.

“It’s a very difficult choice for somebody to make,” Casey said. “You know, ‘Do I maintain an income, or am I going to have to take time off in order to heal knowing that it’s going to really impact my ability to care for myself and my family financially?’”

The bill would provide 12 weeks paid leave for family and medical reasons to all workers, including part-time and seasonal employees, and would be funded by $20 million from the state and a 0.58% payroll tax.

Those provisions would also apply to the leave for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse — often called “safe leave” by advocates. About a quarter of states have some form of mandatory paid leave law on their books. Only four of them have measures concerning safe leave, according to A Better Balance, a national nonprofit that advocates for paid leave laws.

Despite the Democratic supermajority in the House, advocates of the Vermont bill worry it will be vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott, who in 2018 and 2020 rejected similar bills because they would fund leave with a mandatory tax.

Scott proposed his own paid leave program last month based on voluntary enrollment, with six weeks paid time off and 60% wage replacement versus the 12 weeks and 100% wage replacement proposed in H.66. Scott’s office told VTDigger last month that he believes the voluntary plan is the “right approach” in that it would not impose a payroll tax.

“I do think that this bill would be vetoed,” Casey said. “I think that the governor has a pretty hard line on wanting to have a paid family and medical leave bill to be voluntary.”

Groups fighting domestic and sexual violence hope the bill will pass not only for the benefits to survivors but also because it would bring justice to victims who, according to Ward, have been disserviced by the state.

“Our culture in Vermont supports child sexual abuse, supports sex trafficking, supports sexual violence, particularly against women and our communities that are historically marginalized,” Ward said. “This bill is one way that we as a community can say it’s important to us that these things don’t happen to our children, to our friends and neighbors. It’s a commitment we can make to having less violence in Vermont.”

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Ahovsoyan

2 thoughts on “Few states give paid leave for domestic or sexual violence. Vermont could become one of them

  1. What small business can afford losing and employee for an extended period? Temp workers to replace the loss? Will hiring managers be more careful in selecting potential employees who they suspect might take advantage of this program?

  2. How about the abuser being made to pay for the time off instead of more cost to the businesses? It’s no wonder VT is such a business Un friendly state when they first hit the businesses up for the bill.

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