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Schupp files legislation to protect jobs for domestic, sexual violence victims

  

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Victims of domestic or sexual violence could be eligible to receive unpaid time off from work for medical treatment, legal help, or other services under a new Senate bill filed this week. 

SB 16 from Sen. Jill Schupp would entitle victims of sexual or domestic violence to time off from work for a variety of reasons related to the abuse, from seeking medical treatment to court appearances to counseling sessions. The legislation also extends those rights to employees who have a family or household member who is the victim of abuse. 

The bill would entitle employers who have between 20-49 employees to allow an individual a week of unpaid leave — which could be taken intermittently. Employers with at least 50 employees would have to allow at least two weeks of unpaid leave. Employers would also be able to request certification from the employee, such as a court record or documentation from a medical professional or attorney. 

“This is a really important piece of legislation for protecting people who are survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. What it does is give them the bare minimum amount of time they might need to take care of themselves and move on from a relationship that is causing them harm,” Schupp said in an interview. 

“We are not trying to do any harm to the employer. We want to make sure these people who are victims that they are able to become survivors. If they lose their ability to be gainfully employed, it’s another loss to them that could set them back or, in many cases, force them to stay with their abuser because they don’t have the financial security they need to leave,” she said. “I think this will help raise awareness to employers about the significance of this and say should Missouri pass this law, Missouri is making the health, safety, and wellbeing of people and their families a priority.”

Under the bill, employees are required to give employers at least 48 hours notice of the requested time off; and employers would be able to provide additional time for individuals if they so choose. 

Schupp pointed to a National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (part of the CDC) study showing the value of lost productivity from employment for victims of intimate partner violence was nearly $728 million — when the study was published in 2003. 

The legislation is also timely as Missouri, like the rest of the country, continues to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has led to shutdowns and stay at home orders — and an increase in reported domestic violence

“Unpaid leave has been a policy priority and something we’ve monitored closely for several legislative sessions,” Matthew Huffman, public affairs director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV) said. “It’s an issue that cuts across health, labor, and economic development.” 

“Survivors of domestic and sexual violence already face barriers to stable employment, and the ability to have leave from work to care for themselves, without fear of repercussion, has a direct benefit to survivors’ financial security and wellbeing, along with helping employers maintain a strong workforce,” Huffman said. 

While this isn’t the first time the bill has been filed, it grew this year to include employees with children who are victims of abuse. 

Missouri KidsFirst, an advocacy group that seeks to protect children from abuse and neglect, applauded the expansion. This bill would be “another tool to help families who are in crisis,” Missouri KidsFirst Director of Public Policy Jessica Seitz said. 

According to a recent report from the Violence Policy Center, Missouri ranked No. 2 in terms of women murdered by men. The report said 73 women were killed by men in 2018 with most knowing the attacker, according to the Southeast Missourian

This is not the first time Schupp has championed legislation to aid victims of domestic or sexual violence. She authored a bill creating a statewide telehealth network to mentor, train, and provide assistance to medical providers who conduct forensic examinations. This provision, which was included in a bill signed into law by the governor earlier this year, meant hospitals wouldn’t necessarily need to be staffed with full-time Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) around the clock — increasing access to rape kits for Missourians. 

As for this legislation, similar versions were filed in multiple sessions in the past. Most recently, the bill passed out of the Senate Small Business and Industry Committee in 2019 but wasn’t brought back to the floor. Prior to Schupp championing the legislation, Sen. Gina Walsh spearheaded the issue.