Shelby County Commissioners to vote on new policy for employees suffering domestic violence

Shelby County, Tenn. — The Shelby County Commission is a single vote away from making history, potentially passing a resolution that would afford county employees what some consider a lifeline.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris put forth a policy that would allow any county employee time away from work to deal with instances of domestic violence by using sick leave.

Claiming a 21 percent increase in domestic violence crimes last summer, citing the Shelby County Crime Commission, Harris last week released an outline of his “Safe Leave” policy, which seeks to give county employees experiencing domestic violence the chance to get help.

The county will take up the resolution Monday.

Occurrences of domestic violence have seen an insidious rise during a year of stay-at-home orders and a recently released analysis now shows proof.

The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice is co-chaired by former U.S. attorney generals Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch.

Released this month, authors of an analysis report incidents of domestic violence rose by 8.1 percent after COVID-19 lockdowns began, and experts believe, as the pandemic continues to force people to quarantine, so too, will instances of domestic violence keep happening.

“The victim of domestic violence had to continue to be in the home with the actual offender” during the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, said Marquiepta Odom, executive director of the YWCA of Greater Memphis.

Odom works closely with victims of domestic violence. She called the policy a potential “game-changer.”

“(The policy) gives (employees) the time to come up with a safety plan to move, and the biggest thing--it allows them to keep their employment,” Odom said.

Odom said she would like to see a similar policy at the state level.

“There are so many silent victims and a lot of times the ones who don’t reach out or come to domestic violence shelters, often times, or just seek safety planning help and things like that, are often times the ones that end up being a fatality.”