For victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking, seeking help is sometimes the most difficult first step toward safety and justice. Adding to the struggle is the reality that taking that step sometimes means committing time during the workday to seek help. Consequently, the fear of missing work has often been an obstacle to reporting those crimes, participating in the legal process, or otherwise seeking or providing help.
However, for many Minnesota employees, there is a new tool to help them get over that hurdle: safety leave. Safety leave was authorized under the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), which was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014. Under this new law, covered employers must allow most workers to use their personal sick leave for safety leave.
“Safety leave” is defined as time away from work for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking. Safety leave may be used for assistance to the employee or the employee’s child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent. Because of this new law, many employees now have a right to use sick leave benefits to take time off to seek or provide help to themselves and some family members when they are suffering from the devastating impacts of these crimes.
However, the law has limitations. For example, it does not require employers to provide sick leave. But, when they do, they must allow employees to use it for safety leave and for such reasonable times as may be necessary. Also, only employers with twenty-one or more employees at one or more sites are covered by this law.
Another limitation is that not all employees are eligible for safety leave. In order to be eligible, an employee must work for their employer for at least twelve months prior to the request for time off, and during that time, the employee must have worked at least half time.
The fear of missing work should not prevent domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking victims from seeking help and justice. Safety leave is a new tool to make it easier for them to do so.
If you are an employee or employer who is wondering about your safety leave rights and responsibilities, please contact me at [email protected].
This article also appeared in Chicz magazine.