Including Domestic Violence in #ShowUsYourLeave Survivor Speaks

#ShowUsYourLeave is shining a needed light on how companies support their employees outside of work. TheSkimm started this empowering and inspiring movement, and it has been amazing to see the LinkedIn feed fill up with companies sharing comprehensive, thoughtful, and generous plans to support parenting, caregiving, and well-being.

However, there is one glaring omission from each of these #ShowUsYourLeave memes and the important policies behind them:

Support for employees experiencing Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence is a public health crisis the world over. Every single minute, 20 people in the US experience physical abuse at the hands of a partner. This shadow pandemic, which predates and will certainly outlast anything Covid-19 throws our way, severely impacts not just individuals or single workplaces, but the whole economy.

Companies have a major role to play in ending domestic violence – and it starts with simply acknowledging its existence when you #ShowUsYourLeave.  

Do the math: You are more likely to have a victim of domestic abuse in your company than you are a new parent

Let’s do some back of the envelope math real fast… According to the CDC, there were 3.7 million births in the US in 2019. If we round up and assume each birth had two parents requiring paid leave, that totals maybe 7.4 million adults who could utilize these updated parental leave policies offered by theSkimm, Pinterest, Hootsuite, etc. That’s a lot of people helping to care for and nurture the next generation with the support of their employers – it’s absolutely wonderful.

Now, let’s look at domestic violence, which is widely acknowledged to be severely underreported. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), an estimated 10-12 million people in the US experience domestic violence every single year. That includes physical violence, as well as other forms of power and control such as emotional, mental, financial, and sexual abuse. Again, this is a pervasive public health crisis with massive ramifications in homes, workplaces, and communities.

What is the cost of this violence? For individuals, intimate partner violence (IPV) can garnish more than $100,000 in lifetime earnings for women; $23,000 for men. IPV costs US workers 8 million paid work days, resulting in $1.8 billion in lost productivity annually.

1 in 3 Women * 1 in 7 Men

experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, including physical violence and coercive control.

The most at-risk population for relationship abuse is transgender people, who report abuse at a rate of 54%. These statistics are terrifying, and they are very real. They also mean that, at any given moment, someone in your company may be experiencing abuse from a partner. How do you as an employer intend to support them?

If we can talk about pregnancy, then why can’t we talk about abuse?

My first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. I didn’t tell my boss at the time, fearful the impact it would have on my career. Fast forward three years, and I told everyone inside and outside of work about my second miscarriage. What made that disclosure possible for me was other friends and family bravely sharing their own experience with similar losses. It was liberating and empowering, and a huge difference from the shame and isolation I’d felt the first time I lost a baby.

In January 2018, I learned from my sister that she had been a victim of domestic violence for more than a decade. I was stunned, and truly did not know how to support her. My sister was the strongest, smartest, most capable person I’ve ever known. How could this happen and how could I possibly help her?


I looked to friends and work colleagues for help. While everyone displayed deep sympathy for my sister and what our family was experiencing, virtually no one had resources or guidance to offer on how to navigate the overwhelming, terrifying, gutting, and wildly expensive process of leaving an abuser.

People often just do not know what to say or how to respond to abuse. But, the same used to be true for miscarriage.

As a society, we have progressed massively in our comfort talking about pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, breastfeeding, adoption, caregiving, mental health, bereavement, etc. These are all deeply personal, intimate topics that just a few years ago people would not feel comfortable discussing at work. We have rightly recognized that empowering honest conversations about such personal (and vulnerable) topics allows employees to bring their whole self to a job and do their best work in the process.

Let’s talk about abuse with the same candor that we do pregnancy, miscarriage, childcare, and other “private” matters.

The notion of domestic violence as a “private family matter” was always a false one that enabled abusers and entrapped victims. By displaying a willingness to talk about abuse, we are removing the power of shame, the silence caused by stigma that abusers have counted on for generations to keep their victims in check.

Why don’t they just leave? (Spoiler alert: many can’t afford to)

Before we get into this, if you are ever tempted to ask this question – as I have ashamedly done – please don’t. Instead, review the image at the top of this article, and realize that there are dozens of reasons why it is easier to stay in an abusive relationship, and not a single one as to why it is easier to leave.

One of the biggest reasons that people stay in violent relationships is because they literally cannot afford to leave, making paid leave policies all the more critical.

In 2014, Massachusetts recognized the need to offer protection for victims of domestic violence from workplace discrimination. The Domestic Violence Leave Act (DVLA) requires MA employers of 50+ to permit an employee to take up to 15 days of job-protected leave (read: unpaid) in any 12-month period when the employee or a family member is the victim of abusive behavior. If you click on the above link, you can see that a victim of abuse already had to test this law by taking their complaint of workplace discrimination up to the MA Supreme Court after an abuser interfered with an employment offer.

Financial abuse is present in 99% of all domestic violence relationships. This form of power and control is largely invisible, and includes everything from withholding bank account information to refusing to pay for childcare to monitoring spending. Data on financial abuse is irrefutable, and so employers need to ensure that victims have not only job security, but the financial resources needed to establish a life free from abuse. Asking employees to take unpaid leave to escape an abuser is downright irresponsible.

The burden imposed by laws like that in MA contribute to the fear and paralysis that prevent victims from escaping. Imagine handing your employer documentation of your abuse, only to risk their questioning its validity. If companies wait for labor law to catch up, more victims/employees will suffer. TheSkimm realized the urgency for independent companies to lead on enhanced leave policies when Congress failed to include even a single day of Paid Family Leave in the “Build Back Better” proposed budget, which is why they boldly started this critical movement. (Thank you for leading, theSkimm!)

What can employers do? Address abuse directly in your leave policy.

Domestic violence is born in secrecy and it flourishes in silence. The only way to strip this abuse of its power is to name it. Call it out; put it front and center. Right under the “Fertility Savings Plan,” add a line that says, “Paid time off to support escaping an abusive intimate relationship.”

Companies may assume that taking annual leave or sick time is adequate for victims of domestic violence. But that’s not enough – I promise youMy own UK-based employer, the University of St Andrews, is a terrific example of calling out abuse directly. St Andrews offers 10 paid days of “Safe Leave” to support those leaving an abusive or violent relationship, and they specify that the leave can be used for medical appointments, court dates, or simple recovery.

I’ll tell you why this is so critical… On the Distasteful Conversations podcast, I interview survivors of domestic violence about their experience. Across six survivor participants, and among the dozens of others I have spoken to as an advocate, not a single survivor called what was happening to them “abuse” while they were living through it – or rather, when they were in the midst of surviving it. That word – those terrifying, harrowing five letters – can render the strongest, the most capable among us, absolutely paralyzed.

Saying you are a victim of abuse means acknowledging that a person you care deeply about, maybe the person you care most about – the person whose picture is framed in your office, who had everyone laughing at the company holiday party, who is the parent of your children, who is your emergency contact on your employee forms, who is the reason your colleagues threw you a wedding or baby shower – is not a person you are safe with anymore. It is heavy. It is dark. It is so very hard to do.

Just like employees are counting on you being able to talk about miscarriage or the death of a family member or infertility or gender affirming surgery, they need you to talk about domestic violence. A great example of an organization that comes right out to name Domestic Abuse and provide comprehensive resources is the World Bank Group. Check out their “Planning Makes a Difference” handbook starting at page 60 for ideas. Another terrific resource is Standing Firm, which has a host of resources for employers to address partner violence in the workplace.

Employee Retention < Saving a Life

The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they leave the relationship. So that makes this the most critical time when they need support from everyone around them – including their employer.

There are people working in your company right now who need to know that they will be empowered to escape an abusive relationship with the financial support and job security of their employer.

Partner abuse is not bound by any race, religion, nationality, gender, sexuality, income, or industry. You are more likely to have an employee experiencing abuse than you are one who is pregnant. Your top performer is as likely to be a victim as your paycheck player. Your employees need your leave policy to enable them to leave abusive relationships.

When you boldly #ShowUsYourLeave policy for domestic violence, you may do more than retain an employee; you could well save a life.

For more resources and a solid list of national organizations working to bring awareness to and end domestic violence, scroll down the resource page for Respond Inc:

Answers shouldn’t be hard to find.

We're here to help!