Thursday, June 21, 2007

Oregon Governor Signs Bill Allowing Victims of Domestic VIolence and Sexual Assault to Take Unpaid Leave

On May 25, 2007, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 946 into law, allowing survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to take unpaid leave from their jobs to get services or treatment.

It is interesting to note that the bill also won support from Rob Quesnel of Tualatin, the Oregon director of American Family Insurance, the nation's third largest mutual-insurance company. He also leads the board of a domestic-violence shelter. "In many cases, a woman's place of employment is the only safe haven she has," he said. "This bill will help their safe havens continue to be safe."

There was no opposition to the bill, which is similar to laws in nine other states. The bill would allow unpaid leave for survivors to secure their homes or move, and give them time to seek law enforcement or legal help, medical attention, crisis-center services and counseling.

It applies to employers with six or more workers. Employers could limit leave time if it would create an undue hardship on the business, and the leave must be "reasonable." Accrued vacation leave or other paid leave could be used. Rules will be specified by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, which administers Oregon's family-leave law.

The bill went into effect immediately upon being signed by the Governor.

You may wonder why the director of an insurance company would be proactively support such a bill -- after all, why would an employer want a state required leave bill?

I am guessing a few things:

1) This particular employer leads the board of a domestic violence shelter so he is aware of the importance of job security for victims of domestic violence -- as well as the importance of victims being able to get safely to court, to services, and to shelter. The leave law signed by the Oregon Governor allows for this without the victim risking his or her job, and without the employer facing an undue hardship.

2) This employer is also director of an insurance company. Insurers understand something many employers do not -- the real cost of domestic violence as a health issue. It may be that this is a case of "enlightened self-interest" -- an employer recognizing that if a victim of domestic violence can safely get the help needed, injuries and lost work are less likely in the future, thus reducing absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, healthcare costs, and the also keeping the workplace safer.

In the state in which I live (Illinois) we have had a similar law since August of 2003, and employers have not found the law to be an undue burden.

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