Domestic violence takes a toll on women at work. But it doesn’t have to.

by Robin Runge | Solidarity Center
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 11:45 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Laws providing paid leave from work to employees who are victims of domestic violence enable those affected to take time off from work without fearing job loss or loss of wages

Robin Runge is an expert on gender-based violence at work and directs programming on gender-based violence in 20 countries at the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based international worker rights organization.

The global #Metoo movement has shown that gender-based violence and harassment have been a part of work life for women for many years. Much less well-known is impact of domestic violence on the job.

With the United States marking October as Domestic Violence Awareness month, it’s a good time to highlight how local and national polices are recognizing—and addressing—the connection between violence at home and workers’ ability to perform their jobs.

In July, New Zealand passed legislation requiring employers to provide workers with access to paid leave from work to address the impact of domestic violence without fear of job loss. This law and similar ones adopted in the Philippines and in cities and states in the United States, are a result of listening to the voices of women workers and a recognition that ignoring domestic violence is more expensive and dangerous to workers and employers than not addressing it.

Participants in a survey by the International Trade Union Confederation in 2017 and trade unions in the Philippines in 2015 indicated that 75 percent reported that domestic violence negatively impacted their work performance. Thirty-four percent said they worked in the same workplace as the abuser, and 10 percent had lost their jobs because of domestic violence. Surveys conducted in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Mongolia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom also have demonstrated the profound impact of domestic violence on the workplace.

A report from New Zealand estimates that domestic violence cost employers in that country at least $368 million in 2014—and if nothing was done to address it, projections indicate the total costs would be at least $3.7 billion when combined over the next 10 years.

Survivors of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and domestic violence, say they need to take time off work to heal from injuries, seek medical care or legal advocacy, relocate, or take other steps to ensure their safety and that of their family. Many survivors will not be able to access these services if they believe that they will lose their job or will not be paid for missed work time.

Laws providing paid leave from work to employees who are targets of domestic violence will minimize these impacts. These laws also can be used by victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence at the workplace. Such laws enable those affected to take time off from work without fearing job loss or loss of wages. They enable domestic violence victims to consider their next steps and address the trauma caused by the violence while not being forced to face their abuser at work.

The New Zealand legislation came weeks after the International Labor Organization (ILO) held a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, where employers, governments and union representatives met to negotiate a global standard to end violence and harassment at work. In championing adoption of the standard, workers and their unions strongly advocated for a focus on the gender dimension of violence. Momentum for an ILO standard covering gender-based violence at work followed years of advocacy by the global union movement, an effort led by the International Trade Union Confederation. Among the recommendations that emerged from the recent discussions: Governments and employers should provide paid leave from work to employees who are victims of domestic violence.

Although all workers are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence, women are disproportionately affected, and their intersecting identities shape where and how they experience it. Socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender expression, age and immigration status can increase the risk that a girl or woman will experience gender-based violence at work and home.

Unions, employers and governments are recognizing that eradicating this human rights violation is necessary to achieve the safe and dignified workplaces we all want and deserve. We need to ensure that women’s voices remain at the center of these efforts to avoid repeating what we have already seen—laws, policies and enforcement that have been ineffective and have allowed the women to be targets.