Gays included in domestic-violence law

A law went into effect this week that requires all employers in Philadelphia to provide unpaid leave for workers or their close family members — same-sex partners included — who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence.

City Council passed the “Entitlement to Leave Due to Domestic or Sexual Violence,” spearheaded by Councilman-at-Large Bill Greenlee (D), Oct. 23 and Mayor Nutter signed the ordinance Nov. 5; the law went into effect Jan. 5.

Under the law, employers with 50 or more staff members must provide up to eight weeks of unpaid leave, and employers with fewer than 50 workers must grant up to four weeks of leave, if the employee or his/her family member experienced domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. The law requires that employees who take the leave would be able to retain their position, as well as their benefits, and would guard against employer retaliation.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is charged with enforcing the law.

The scope of the law is rather vast, with family or household members defined as: “spouses or persons who have been spouses, persons living as spouses or who lived as spouses, parents and children, other persons related by consanguinity or affinity, current or former sexual or intimate partners, persons who share biological parenthood or ‘Life Partners.’”

Rue Landau, PCHR executive director, said that same-sex couples do not need to have registered with the city’s Life Partner registry in order for the law to be applicable.

PCHR commissioner Kay Kyungsun Yu noted that domestic and sexual violence often have far-reaching effects that can permanently impact the victim and his/her family.

“Domestic violence and sexual violence are recognized as crimes that have devastating effects on individuals, families, our community and the workplace,” Yu said. “In addition to the abuse from the violence itself, victims of domestic and sexual violence and their families are forced to endure economic losses, much of which stem from the absence from work that inevitably results from having to cope with the abuse.”

The law authorizes the leave so workers can seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries; obtain counseling or therapy; obtain assistance from a domestic- or sexual-violence agency; make safety plans, such as possible relocation; or to seek legal assistance.

The leave can be taken consecutively or can be incorporated into a reduced workweek. Employers may require documentation of the incident, such as a sworn statement of a caseworker at a victims-services organization or a police report.

The ordinance expires on Jan. 5, 2010, but Landau said she expects City Council to again take up the measure closer to that date.

“The law is currently only in effect for one year, but we anticipate that it will again be passed with some amendments so that this can be continued,” Landau said.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].