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For the 24 years she lived with her husband, Susan Still lived in fear of the ongoing physical and verbal abuse at home. And if she'd known then - as she eventually found out - that one employer had noticed and was making note of various signs of Still's abuse, she'd have been even more afraid, in part because of what that could mean for her job. However, those employer notes ended up being evidence when Still's husband was convicted in a Buffalo, N.Y. courtroom in 2004 on various assault and endangering the welfare of a child charges and sent to prison for a maximum of 20 years. (Gannett/courtesy of Susan Still/File) ORG XMIT: GANNETT [Via MerlinFTP Drop] / Handout

For the 24 years she lived with her husband, Susan Still was fearful of physical and verbal abuse at home.

If she'd known then what she eventually found out - that one employer had noticed and was making note of various signs of Still's abuse- she says she'd have been even more afraid, in part because of what that could mean for her job.

Those employer notes ended up being evidence when Still's husband was convicted in a Buffalo courtroom in 2004 on various charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He was sent to prison for a maximum of 20 years.

"I'd kept it hidden for a very long time," says Still, who speaks around the country on domestic violence issues. "Having a supportive employer can be so helpful. Where we work can be our escape."

A growing number of states are requiring employers to provide job protections for workers caught in abusive situations.

In 2002, Colorado approved giving employees three unpaid days off in any 12-month period to do such work as getting a restraining order, medical care or moving. Connecticut passed a similar law in 2010, giving 12 days off. Hawaii, as of 2012, started requiring employers with fewer than 50 workers to allow up to five days of unpaid leave, while larger employers must allow as many as 30 days.

Similar legislation, allowing three unpaid days off, is before state lawmakers in New York.

"This really came directly from working with victims, advocates and our local (domestic violence) consortium here," says New York state Sen. Joe Robach, R-Greece. "Many people had spoken up and said they were afraid of going through the process ... because they didn't want to lose their employment."

Michelle Caiola, senior counsel at Legal Momentum, a Washington-based gender equity legal, education and advocacy group, said states began putting such rules in place close to a decade ago. Although most states have statutes providing protections for crime victims, laws specifically carving out protections for domestic violence victims are especially needed, Caiola says. "There remains a bias against victims of domestic violence," she says. "A stereotype. It's an issue people don't want to be involved with or take very seriously."

Since a job leads to financial security, "that's a significant consideration when a victim makes that leap to safety, making sure they have the resources for what happens next," says Jaime Saunders, CEO of Alternatives for Battered Women, a Rochester domestic violence shelter and service provider. "It's important if or when the victim takes that step to safety, the proper supports are in place."

Along with time off, many states have passed laws saying a person who has to leave a job because of domestic violence is eligible for unemployment insurance, Caiola says.

In 2007, Florida started requiring employers with 50 or more workers to provide up to three days of unpaid leave for such activities as seeking an injunction or getting medical attention. That was expanded in 2008 to all victims of sexual violence.

In many cases, the people most at risk of losing their jobs were minimum-wage workers, says Florida state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. "You've got a single-mother victim of domestic violence, it's difficult for her to get time off and not face the threat of 'we may have to let you go.' "

A job is often one more piece of leverage an abuser uses against the abused, Still says. "Many of them, the court process starts, they'll change attorneys three times, prolong things over and over," she says. "Many people get fired for that because you keep missing so much work. Or you have to move three times because your abuser keeps finding where you live, and you have to take time off for that. When your abuser cannot find you, the first place they're going to go is where you work. Many times people just have to leave their jobs."

Daneman also reports for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

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