Some may see evidence of domestic violence as a visible mark on the body — a bruised face, perhaps a broken arm, or much worse for many victims. However, what we may not see are the economic consequences suffered by those who have been abused: how many days of work a victim has missed due to domestic abuse, or how many jobs she or he may have lost due to their abuser’s actions. Domestic violence isn’t limited only to acts of physical violence; abuse may result in financial and economic consequences that take away a survivors autonomy. Public policy can help mitigate these devastating effects of domestic violence. A key policy that can help is paid sick days that cover time off to deal with legal and health consequences of abuse. If implemented, such paid sick days laws would positively impact all workers, and also benefit domestic violence survivors.

Paid sick days laws are starting to sweep the country there are now 37 jurisdictions that have paid sick day laws in effect or where such laws will be implemented soon. Paid sick days provide economic security for victims of domestic violence so that taking time off to deal with domestic violence issues court appearances, doctors appointments, meetings with social workers, or healing wouldn’t mean survivors have to forfeit income or put their employment in jeopardy. All five states that have passed paid sick days laws Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont include provisions where sick time can be used for specific “safe time” purposes. This allows workers to take time off for purposes related to domestic violence. However, not all city jurisdictions with paid sick days include this provision, an oversight that needs to be corrected. Paid sick days would allow victims time to seek lifesaving services from local domestic violence programs.

Every year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence performs a census that conducts a 24-hour snapshot of the services provided by domestic violence programs across the country. The “Domestic Violence Counts 2015 census found that during a single 24-hour period in September 2015, domestic violence programs across the country served 71,828 individuals. Of that group, 44,007 were adults and sought emergency shelter, transitional or other housing services, and non-residential services (these include legal advocacy, children’s programs, economic support, etc.). It is unclear how many adults out of this group are employed, but by applying the employment-to-population ratio of adults to the group, we can get a ballpark estimate of the number of workers, on any day, that could benefit from having paid sick days that could be used to seek out these services. Since women are disproportionately more likely to be seeking out domestic violence services, we used the employment-to-population ratio for female adults.

If we assume that this group of 44,007 adults are employed at the same rate as the general female population, 24,146 of those adults would have been at work the day the census was taken had they not been seeking services for domestic violence. This translates to lost annual income (GDP) of about $2.9 billion if we assume this number of people misses work each day due to abuse. This estimate does not even include the requests for services that went unmet due to lack of resources, meaning this estimate falls on the low end of the spectrum.

While this is a large number of individuals who can benefit, only a small fraction of the U.S. workforce with access to paid sick days uses it, so providing paid sick days for purposes related to domestic violence will not be overly burdensome to employers. Studies of paid sick days, including a recent CEPR reportfind that for most employers, providing paid sick days is virtually a “non-event.” Paid sick days make a significant difference for workers and victims of domestic violence but have not proven to be a significant burden for employers.

At the national level, the Healthy Families Act (a federal bill that has been reintroduced) allows workers to earn up to seven paid sick days if the business employs 15 or more people. Among a long list of positive benefits for workers, the Healthy Family Act allows employees to use paid sick days for incidents related to domestic violence. This piece of legislation is key to removing barriers to survivors everywhere in the U.S. so they are able to recover and seek services.

While it is encouraging that paid sick day legislation is gaining traction across the country, it is critical that they can be used for domestic violence issues. The Healthy Families Act would be a welcome piece of legislation that would benefit workers, including victims of domestic violence. It is critical to remember that legislation like paid sick days can make a world of difference to survivors, and ultimately save lives. 

No worker should have to forfeit income or put their employment in jeopardy because they are sick, and for domestic violence survivors, the benefit from having a paid sick day is the equivalent of having a paid safe day. Whether it is seeking legal help, finding safe housing, attending a court date, or seeking other services, survivors should be able to be use paid sick days to prioritize their safety.