Facebook offers paid leave to victims of domestic violence

Naomi Nix

Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the social-media company is extending its paid leave policy to workers who are the victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, at a time when violence in homes is on the rise.

All employees globally will be able to take as many as 20 paid days off if they or a relative has been the victim of a crime. Previously, only workers in the U.S. were allowed to take unpaid leave, and only if they were the victim.

“Domestic violence is a huge problem and it’s a universal problem,” Sandberg said in an interview this week ahead of a panel discussion on inclusivity Wednesday at the Bloomberg Equality Summit. “It’s all over the world and it happens in companies like ours to our employees.”

Sheryl Sandberg

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As local governments have issued stay-at-home orders and shut down businesses to fight the spread of Covid-19 in the past year – putting pressure on relationships, mental health and financial stability – cases of domestic violence have increased. A study conducted by Howard University researchers estimated that social distancing measures increased domestic violence by roughly 6%, or more than 24,000 cases, during the first few weeks of the pandemic last year.

Few companies offer employee leave benefits for reasons beyond sickness or the death of a loved one. A 2019 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that the majority of employers offered workers paid sick leave and bereavement leave, but only 32% offered paid personal leave as of 2019.

Still, Facebook may find it challenging to ensure that people feel comfortable coming forward to take advantage of the new benefit. Under the new policy, workers will have to tell their managers that they need to take an emergency leave but won’t have to specify the reason. The employees will later be identified as a domestic abuse or crime victims in Facebook’s internal systems that only human-resources managers have access to, according to a Facebook spokesperson.

“This is brand-new and I think this is going to be a tricky thing with this policy. So we’ll have to see how it unfolds,” Sandberg said.

The benefit also doesn’t apply to the many contract workers that Facebook employs through outside consulting firms. Facebook has been the target of complaints over the workplace conditions of its thousands of contract content moderators, who must slog through images and videos sometimes depicting graphic violence and disturbing sexual activities, but aren’t given the same pay and benefits as the social media giant’s full-time staffers.

Sandberg said she hopes other companies will adopt similar policies for giving employees paid leave.