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Ross considering policy to provide paid sick leave to domestic violence victims

October 3, 2018

Ross officials are considering a policy that would help township employees who are victims of domestic violence attend court hearings, find new housing or deal with other issues by granting them paid them time off.

While the measure is aimed at providing the benefit to township employees, officials are exploring whether it could be extended to include private employers in the township.

Commission President Steve Korbel noted that his wife, an attorney who has represented victims of domestic violence, has provided him with insight into the challenges victims can face.

“One of the biggest hurdles for her clients, for both leaving an abusive situation or following through in the court system is that they risk losing their job or losing money because they can’t afford to take a day off work,” he said during the Oct. 1, board meeting.

“I’m not saying we have employees who are in that situation, but it’s important to have something like this on the books and to lead by example in the community,” he said.

The proposed policy would allow township employees to take up to 10 days of paid leave during a 12-month period if they are victims of abusive behavior, domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault or kidnapping.

The time off could be used to seek medical treatment, secure safe housing or attend law enforcement or court proceedings.

Commissioner Dan DeMarco, who is a lawyer, said he has had clients who were victims of domestic violence that struggled to make it to court proceedings because they didn’t have paid time off to address the problem.

“They are very concerned about their employment because of what they are going through,” he said.

Commissioner Jack Betkowski suggested that township residents would benefit from such a policy if the board passed an ordinance requiring private employers to offer a similar benefit to their workers.

“This is something the community deserves,” he said.

Commissioner Grace Stanko said she learned about the extent of the domestic violence problem while serving as a volunteer at a women’s shelter.

“I’ve been involved many years with Crisis Center North,” she said. “Don’t fool yourself that we don’t have domestic violence issues in Ross Township.”

Stanko said that during the time she was actively involved with the center, domestic violence “of some magnitude” was present in an estimated one-in-five households.

Several commissioners said while they would like to see the policy eventually turned into a local law that extends to all employers, achieving that goal should not delay adopting it for township employees.

“I think we should start with us, with Ross Township,” Stanko said.

Commissioner Jason Pirring questioned whether there might be legal challenges to enacting a township-wide domestic violence leave requirement.

Korbel said the legal ramifications of such an ordinance would have to be be investigated.

He noted the City of Pittsburgh’s efforts to enact a law compelling all employers to offer paid sick leave has been challenged in the courts.

A 2015 ruling in Common Pleas Court ruling determined that Pittsburgh lacked the legal authority to require businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees.

The city appealed the ruling to Commonwealth Court, which upheld the lower court ruling.

In December, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, but no decision has been issued.

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