European first as Council agrees new support for domestic abuse victims

A leading Scottish Council is set to be the first in Europe to offer additional leave provision to employees who are victims of domestic abuse after Councillors agreed a new special leave policy.

South Ayrshire Council is believed to be the first in Europe to introduce a new ‘safe leave’ policy – inspired by New Zealand’s Domestic Violence Victims Protection Bill – that will give employees paid time off to get the help and support they need for themselves and their families.

Approval of the policy follows a motion from Councillors Laura Brennan-Whitefield and Brian McGinley, which was unanimously supported by all 28 councillors in December last year, to introduce safe leave in South Ayrshire.

It will now be incorporated into the Council’s Special Leave Policy, providing employees experiencing domestic abuse with up to 10 days’ paid safe leave, which can be used as required – based on the individual person’s needs.

The leave will support employees to attend medical appointments and counselling; attend legal proceedings; seek safe housing; and visit support agencies.

Councillor Peter Henderson, Portfolio Holder for Resources and Performance, said: “Across South Ayrshire, we’re committed to supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities and working with our partners to raise awareness of domestic abuse and violence. As part of these efforts, we’re also leading the way in doing what we can to support our employees who experience such trauma.

“Giving abused employees access to up to 10 days’ safe leave, where they can take the time off they need to access help and support without the worry of it affecting their finances or using up their annual leave, will make a real and lasting difference that could help change lives forever.

“And just by making that support available, it could help give employees the confidence to ask for help and take the first steps towards a safer life for them and their families.

“Domestic abuse will never be tolerated in South Ayrshire but, sadly, we know it happens, and we want to ensure that – when it affects our employees – we do all we can to support them. The safe leave policy does just that.

“We believe we’re the first Council in Europe to offer safe leave provision and I hope others will follow our example. Our people are undoubtedly our best assets and I’m proud that we’re introducing positive and progressive policies that provide increased support to employees at a time when they need it most.

“These include additional paid maternity and paternity leave for parents of premature babies, which is already making a positive difference for employees, and we will continue to do what we can to lead the way and support our people and places.”

Hazel Bingham, Manager of South Ayrshire Women’s Aid, added: “South Ayrshire Council’s decision is a massive step in the right direction for people living with domestic abuse and will, I have no doubt, make a long and lasting difference for people at a time when they need help most.

“Having a compassionate and supportive employer that allows people the time they need to attend vital appointments, access help and advice, and do what they need to do means they don’t need to worry about using up annual leave or going off sick.

“It’s essential that Council employees know they will be fully supported when they approach their manager or colleagues about their situation and making use of safe leave. We’re proud to be working in partnership with the Council to deliver training and support to ensure there is a clear understanding of the complexities of domestic abuse and employees can make the best use of the safe leave available to them.

“I would hope South Ayrshire Council’s approach is embraced not just by other local authorities, but by businesses the length and breadth of the country, so that safe leave can become a reality for everyone who needs it.”

Domestic abuse survivor, Elizabeth* (26), said a safe leave policy would have made a huge difference to her when she was working up to leave an abusive relationship. She added: “At times I thought I might lose my job as I needed time off to make arrangements to get away from the abuse I experienced and then to actually leave my home, and a safe leave policy would have taken away a lot of that stress and pressure.

“I think it’s absolutely brilliant and I hope other employers and businesses will follow South Ayrshire Council’s lead and show people that help and support is available to them and that things can get better if you make use of that assistance.”

The Safe Leave paper approved by the Council’s Leadership Panel on 12 February is available hereExternal link

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