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By David G. Taylor October 7, 2011

Domestic violence recovery still not covered

President Barack Obama made many promises during the campaign that he would expand workers' rights and benefits. Among these was Obama's commitment to expand the list of reasons that an employee can take protected leave from his or her job, specifically including  recovery from domestic violence. Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act lists pregnancy and serious illness as legitimate reasons for medical leave, but it is silent on the subject of domestic violence.

To accomplish this goal the administration has expressed support for the Healthy Families Act. The bill mandates new requirements for leave, specifically that employers with 15 workers or more must grant employees one hour of paid leave for each 30 hours worked, for a maximum of seven paid days of leave per year.

In addition, the bill adds recovery from domestic violence to the list of allowable reasons to take leave. "Without paid sick days that can be used to address the effects of domestic violence, these victims are in grave danger of losing their jobs," reads the text of both the Senate and House versions of the bill.

Rep. Rose DeLauro, D-Conn., and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced versions of the bill in 2005 and 2009. On both occasions the bill stalled in committee and expired after the new session of Congress began. DeLauro re-introduced the Healthy Families Act in May 2011. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, did the same in the Senate. History seems to be repeating itself, however, as both bills are awaiting action in committee.

We discounted the possibility of the Healthy Families Act passing through Congress in a previous promise update. If the bill did not come to vote during the previous session of Congress, when Democrats held strong majorities in both chambers of Congress, it's even more unlikely to pass through the currently Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Efforts to add domestic violence to the Family Medical Leave Act as unpaid leave have similarly borne no fruit. The Domestic Violence Leave Act, introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in 2009, stalled in committee and subsequently expired without becoming law. (In addition to domestic violence. the bill would have added sexual assault and stalking to the list of acceptable rationales for work leave.) Woolsey included similar provisions in the omnibus Balancing Act of 2011. This bill, however, is primarily supported by Democratic lawmakers and seems unlikely to find support in the Republican-controlled House.

Given these political realities, efforts to expand the Family Medical Leave Act to include domestic violence has met an impasse. As a result, we rate Obama's promise as Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Healthy Families Act (S. 984),summary & status.

Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1876),summary & status.

Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460),summary & status.  

Healthy Families Act (S. 1152),summary & status.

Testimony of Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions United States Senate, November 10, 2009.

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro,press release, May 12, 2011.

Domestic Violence Leave Act (H.R. 2515), summary & status.

Balancing Act of 2011 (H.R. 2346), summary & status.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif, press release, May 20, 2009.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 4, 2009

Bill would allow family and medical leave to be used for domestic violence, sexual assault

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced companion bills that would enact a promise made by President Barack Obama on expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to include reasons related to domestic violence or sexual assault.

The provision is included in the House and Senate versions of a bill that would guarantee paid sick days to workers at all but the smallest companies.

The Healthy Families Act — introduced in identical versions earlier this year by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. — would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to seven eight-hour days per year. They would be able to use this time to stay home when they are ill, care for a sick family member, visit the doctor, or — the part directly relevant to this promise — to seek help if they are victims of domestic violence or a sexual assault. Employers with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt from complying with the act.

DeLauro has introduced a similar measure during the past three Congresses, but backers say that the number of co-sponsors is higher than ever. As of early November, 113 members of the House and 21 senators had signed on as co-sponsors.

However, all were Democrats, which poses challenges for the bill. The lack of Republican support might not prevent passage in the House, where the majority party can often pass its agenda without minority votes, but it will likely pose a challenge in the Senate, where the Republican minority can effectively block contentious bills from being taken up.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business have spoken out against the measure, saying employers, already strapped by the recession, could suffer under the bill's more far-reaching new requirements — guaranteed sick days. Critics have not raised objections to the domestic violence and sexual assault provisions specifically.

The measure has not progressed beyond a hearing in one House subcommittee, and action is not expected until the question of health care reform is resolved, at the earliest. But it's enough for us to rate it In the Works.

Our Sources

Rosa DeLauro, "DeLauro Introduces Paid Sick Days Legislation; Prioritizes family-friendly policies, reflects public health benefit" news release , May 18, 2009

National Partnership for Women and Families, legislative agenda for the 111th Congress, Aug 7, 2009 (provided by the group)

New York Times, " Bill Would Guarantee Up to 7 Paid Sick Days ," May 15, 2009

THOMAS, bill information page for H.R.2460 (House version of sick-days legislation), accessed Nov. 3, 2009

THOMAS, bill information page for S. 1152 (Senate version of sick-days legislation), accessed Nov. 3, 2009

E-mail interview with Sharyn Tejani, senior policy council for the National Partnership for Women and Families, Nov. 3, 2009

Interview with Kevin Brennan, chief of staff to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Nov. 3, 2009

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