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Council votes to let city workers use paid leave to escape domestic abuse

Emily Hunt for WXXI News

City of Rochester employees seeking to escape domestic violence would get paid leave under legislation approved Tuesday by City Council.

City Council unanimously passed the bill, which would allow employees to use accrued paid time off to seek shelter, attend court proceedings, receive medical care, and find counseling or any other needed service related to addressing domestic violence. Additionally, employees who do not have paid time off would be allowed to take unpaid leave, with a guarantee their job would be waiting when they return.

Employees would be able to take leave to seek services and they won’t have to explain the situation until they return to work.

The bill was inspired by Westchester County’s Safe Time Leave Law. The Rochester bill goes a step further by also allowing employees to take paid leave to attend to immediate family members escaping domestic violence.

Domestic violence survivors spoke out in support of the bill prior to the vote. Bonita Tenzie-Kelley held up a white sheet of printer paper to her webcam, a smiley face sketched on the front.

“It’s hard to go to work with a smile on your face, sometimes you have to tell your co-workers what you’re going through,” Tenzie-Kelly said through tears. “It’s just hard, and I can imagine people still coming into work with that smile on their face.”

Survivors said the bill would ensure financial stability when someone is going through a traumatic experience. It could also encourage victims to take the steps needed to get out of an abusive situation.

Maisha Beard-Johnson, who survived a childhood with an alcoholic father who regularly abused her mother, said a bill like this could have saved much pain in her own life.

“I believe, in my heart of hearts, that if my mother had the opportunity to use paid time off to seek legal counsel, to seek shelter, or to receive mental and/or medical health care without the risk of losing her job, and without my father’s knowledge, we could have escaped the abuse long before we did,” Beard-Johnson said.

The bill was introduced by Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot. It is the first piece of legislation introduced by Lightfoot in his time on Council.

The bill was prompted partially by a spike in domestic violence across New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent report, the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline noted that the number of calls it received in April was up by 33% compared to April 2019, and admittance to shelters increased by just under 20 percent.

Lightfoot emphasized that the bill would protect all employees, regardless of sex and domestic situation. He added that he was proud that his first piece of legislation would protect city employees.

“I’m hoping this is a tool that can help people get the help that they need,” Lightfoot said.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at