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13 February 2019, 10:21
Domestic abuse victims who work for a Scottish council will get up to 10 days paid "safe leave" after councillors approved the groundbreaking policy.
Employees of South Ayrshire Council will be able to take time off to get the help and support they need for themselves and their families.
Believed to be the first European council to adopt the safe leave provision, South Ayrshire councillor Peter Henderson said he hoped other local authorities would follow their lead.
Mr Henderson 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."
The council also offers additional paid maternity and paternity leave for parents of premature babies, with Mr Henderson adding: "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."
The leave can be used however the employees require, allowing victims to get medical help and counselling, attend legal proceedings, seek support or look for safe accommodation.
Approval of the policy follows a motion from councillors Laura Brennan-Whitefield and Brian McGinley, unanimously supported by all 28 councillors in December last year.
The safe leave policy cites "New Zealand's world leading Victims' Protection Bill" that was introduced last year and requires employers to give victims of domestic violence up to 10 days leave from work, separate from annual holiday and sick leave.
Welcoming the decision, manager of South Ayrshire Women's Aid, Hazel Bingham, said: "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."