Cleveland city councilmember Matt Zone Monday evening introduced a resolution to form a working group to study domestic violence concerns and the feasibility of a safe leave policy in the city. The group will work with community partners to examine the ways that the city government, as well as private employers, can ensure that survivors of domestic violence have the capacity to heal, find shelter, and remain safe without the threat of losing their income and employment.
According to the Cleveland-based Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center (DV/CAC), domestic violence-related concerns result in the loss of eight million days of work in the United States each year. Worse, up to sixty percent of domestic violence victims lose their jobs because of the disruptive nature of domestic violence.
Melissa Graves, the CEO at the DV/CAC, can easily recount several instances in which the workplace can become a barrier for a survivor’s recovery. Individuals might miss work in order to seek medical attention, relocate to a new home or shelter, or to rearrange their financial situation. However, beyond these already significant burdens, Graves told Scene that survivors may need time off to ensure their child’s safety and to access legal protections. They may even need to stay away from their job out of fear that the abuser will visit that location.
Yet, the federal government does not provide protections to ensure that domestic violence survivors can retain their jobs while taking the time they need to recover. Instead, states and individual cities must endeavor to create and implement policies that help protect these individuals and their loved ones.
For Zone, this effort is deeply rooted in his prior experiences. As a personal bailiff in the domestic relations court, Zone assisted hundreds of survivors in their efforts to navigate the legal system. “I saw how barriers to having safe protection often impeded the ability of the judiciary from ensuring that there was safe protection for all individuals,” Zone told Scene.
However, while Zone’s history connected him to the issue decades ago, it was a grassroots group that provided the catalyst for this current effort. Several students at the Cleveland Marshall College of Law spent their summer researching local policy issues as a core component of a graduate course. A few students in the class decided to take on the issue of safe leave. After reviewing data that highlighted the need for greater employment protections for survivors of domestic violence, the students were dedicated to producing legislation to resolve this issue.
In a conversation with Scene, Lucia Lopez-Hisijos, one of the students involved in the project, explained that she first learned about an unpaid safe leave policy and believed it was a valiant effort the city should take on. While it would secure employment for people who took time off, it did not resolve the income concerns of survivors.
Then, she learned that Philadelphia, New York and the entire state of New Jersey had adopted paid leave policies. After drafting some potential legislation, the students and their professor, Joseph Mead, approached Zone for his support. The Monday night resolution was a direct outcome of this work.
Mead, an assistant professor at both the law school as well as the Levin College of Urban Affairs, is excited about the progress and told Scene that the effort was student-led and student-driven. “Over the summer, my students mixed passion, talent, and hard work to make a compelling case for safe leave policies,” said Mead. “We are looking forward to continuing to work with City Council and our community partners to study safe leave policies and other policies to support survivors.”
Still, there is significant work to be done to bring any policy to fruition. Zone hopes that there will be movement on this effort by the end of the year and will look to community stakeholders, including those within the nonprofit and private sectors, to help develop this work.
The resolution mentions other cities that have adopted policies to protect domestic violence survivors, such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The law students based their original suggestions on the Philadelphia legislation, which requires that all employers with ten or more employees must provide paid leave that can be used for safety concerns. Zone hopes to collaborate with large, local employers as well as the Council of Smaller Enterprises to build support for this effort.
And yet, while a local policy would be a big win for the city, relying on individual cities to adopt policies would undoubtedly lead to an unequal distribution of access. Would the Beachwoods and Solons of the state be likely to adopt these practices? Perhaps not. In additional to local policies, a state level policy would likely provide additional, much needed protections.
Safeguards like those that State Representative Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) has been advocating for since she arrived at the statehouse. Along with her efforts to promote a state-wide paid leave program, Boyd is working at the state-level to provide additional protections for survivors of domestic violence. Boyd’s most recent effort came in the form of “Aisha’s Law," a protective system that might have prevented the horrible murder of Aisha Fraser in 2018.
“Aisha’s Law is for all Ohioans because domestic violence leaves in its wake families, communities, and all of us who are co-victims left to pick up the pieces,” Rep. Boyd said in a May 2019 press release. “Aisha’s Law is a continuum to unite law enforcement, the courts, and community stakeholders in partnership to change lives.”
Like Boyd, Graves believes that these efforts must be as expansive as possible. “It is critical that we bring intimate partner violence out of the shadows,” says Graves. “We encourage all employers to think about how they would support domestic violence victims who are often too scared to let employers know for fear of losing their job.”
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