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Cleveland considers job-protected leave for domestic violence victims

Cleveland City Hall
Posted at 6:06 PM, Sep 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-17 18:39:34-04

CLEVELAND — Domestic violence victims are at their most vulnerable when they’re trying to leave an abusive situation, and a new resolution introduced by Cleveland City Council might give victims one less thing to worry about during a tough time.

Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone and Council President Kevin Kelley introduced an emergency resolution Monday that aims to study programs in other cities that provide job-protected leave to employees who are victims of domestic violence.

The resolution notes that cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and St. Paul already have ordinances that require employers to provide this kind of leave. The resolution “establishes a working committee” of city council, the mayor’s administration and community stakeholders to study policies, “consider implementing a city policy, and consider requiring employers to provide job-protected leave to employee victims of domestic and sexual violence.”

The resolution states that victims miss, on average, 137 hours of work each year as the result of abuse, and as many as 60% lose their jobs for reasons resulting from the abuse.

If two-thirds of council votes in favor of the emergency resolution, it will go into effect immediately.

Zone said he hopes the resolution will be discussed next Wednesday at the public safety committee hearing.

"I’m hopeful that we’re going to introduce legislation that will make it law and get that passed by the end of the year," Zone said.

Laura Cowan, domestic violence advocate
PHOTO: Laura Cowan is a domestic violence survivor and now works as an advocate.

Twenty years ago, Laura Cowan and her children escaped from an abusive situation in California that she described as “hell.”

“With an abuser, who abused me and my children, even his own,” Cowan said. “And trying to escape any situation like that is the most dangerous time. And sure enough, to keep us from leaving, he locked me and my children up in a garage over six months.”

No one in their rural part of town knew where they are, Cowan said, but she and her children managed to leave.

“I escaped, alive, unharmed, thank God,” Cowan said. “And I just promised to help others after that.”

She left California and came home to Cleveland to start over, and that meant she had a lot to handle all at once.

“Going back and forth from court and things like that in the beginning,” Cowan said. “And then finding therapy for the children and myself.”

Cowan is now a domestic violence advocate for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, in addition to being a survivor herself. She was happy to hear that Cleveland City Council is planning to study programs that would provide job-protected time off to victims of violence.

“Nothing’s open after 5 [p.m.],” Cowan said. “So they need to go back and forth to court. They need to see their attorney. They have counseling, even for their children. They’re looking for housing to relocate, and all that takes time that you’re taking off from your job.”

Some employers, Cowan said, might not understand that and might write up or even fire employees who are taking time off.

“That’s terrible for a victim to go through,” Cowan said. “They already went through enough and now it’s like they’re being victimized all over again.”

Having a policy in place that provides job security, Cowan said, would help victims.

“Having a bill like this in place is like an FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act],” Cowan said. “It could be paid or not paid, but it helps them, and it’s job security, that they know they still have their job if they take that time off from work.”

Laura's Home
PHOTO: Laura's Home is a program shelter and crisis center for women, located in Cleveland.

At a crisis center and program shelter for women in Cleveland called Laura’s Home, about 40% of the current clients came from domestic violence situations, according to assistant manager Abby Uveges, while others have been evicted from their homes, are working to reunite with their children or have issues with substance abuse.

The shelter takes on 62 clients at a time, both women with children and single women, housing them for up to a year and a half while supporting them through the program’s classes. The shelter has been at capacity for more than seven years, Uveges said.

“A program includes classes that address their physical, emotional, mental needs,” Uveges said. “We have job readiness classes here. We also have counseling available for the women and their children.”

Uveges said there are many things victims in crisis need. In a domestic violence situation, that means connecting with police and getting a protection order in place, as well as arranging custody of their children so they don’t have to communicate with their abuser.

“There’s a lot of legal obligations that they’re going to have to get, in order to protect themselves as well as their children,” Uveges said.

And, if the victim is employed at the time, there are other hurdles, from an abuser knowing where someone works to the location of childcare.

“So to be able to have time off from work to change your childcare, to be able to possibly move if that’s what’s needed and just get the protection order in place with police is a huge thing, not to mention the impact it has on your mental and emotional wellbeing is huge,” Uveges said. “Connecting to counseling would definitely be needed. And then physically, if they’re needing to go to a doctor, or whatever their specific situation is, it would be absolutely huge just to be able to take that stress off of them, so that they don’t have to call off of work, so they don’t have to worry about getting childcare provided. They can just take some time to get those things in order.”

Losing employment, Uveges said, can put a victim right back into an abusive situation.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, well, I don’t have any money, I don’t have any resources, so I guess I do have to stay in this relationship,’” Uveges said. “Because they have to provide for their children. So if they lose their job on top of trying to leave an abusive relationship, they almost have no option but to stay in an unhealthy relationship, where they could be hurt or their children could be hurt.”

Cowan encouraged victims of abuse to let their employers or human resources know what’s going on while they’re still dealing with the situation.

“Domestic violence follows you anywhere,” Cowan said. “It could come to your job, you know, and you’re putting other employees at risk. So if your employer knows and you sit down and be honest with them in the beginning, it would help everybody all the way around.”

Cowan said talking about domestic violence is important, even though “to sit down and admit you’re in that type of relationship is embarrassing.”

“You can’t go through this alone. This thing is bigger than yourself,” Cowan said. “So to keep it inside and not talk about it at all, you’re not helping anyone, especially if you have children involved. So you have to look at the big picture and kind of come out [of] that cocoon and just discuss what’s happening to you and put some help in place. It’s like a safety plan. It’s a safety net for you.”