It’s the advice many domestic-violence victims hear most. But leaving—the meetings with lawyers, the court appearances, the apartment hunting, the counseling sessions, the all-consuming physical and emotional path to recovery—requires time and flexibility. Dawn Dalton, the policy director at the Washington, D.C., Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said scheduling demands are consistently the largest obstacle standing between the victim and a different life: “I hear, again and again, ‘I just can’t get time off work.’”
Last week, New Zealand passed legislation granting 10 days of paid leave to victims of domestic violence, becoming the second country in the world, after the Philippines, to institute nationally mandated paid leave for domestic-violence victims. For victims, Dalton said, a paid-leave policy like New Zealand’s could be the difference between leaving and staying—or between leaving, and leaving for good.
In the United States, victims have more institutional support in some places than others. Eight states and six cities outside of those states offer some version of paid time off for employees who experience domestic violence, though most of those policies are far less robust than New Zealand’s. In Washington, D.C., for example, employees are entitled to seven days of “sick and safe leave,” which covers days off for both illness and domestic violence, among other health and safety risks. But across much of the country, if an employer fires a domestic-violence victim for taking time off work—which, Dalton says, happens all the time—the victim has no legal recourse. Forty-two percent of American employers do not offer paid leave for domestic-violence victims, according to a 2017 survey. Another 19 percent said they’re “not sure” if they offer it.