Allowing victims of domestic violence and similar abuse to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits is the goal of legislation being proposed for the 2021 General Assembly.

“There are countless victims who remain vulnerable after they try to leave because their abuser knows where and when they work,” said Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, a practicing attorney. “My legislation would empower these victims by adding protections that give them a better chance to permanently leave abusive situations.”

The bill applies to those who leave or are unable to work because of domestic violence and abuse, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking.

The victims would also be eligible if they feared traveling to and from work, if they wished to move to another area to avoid the abuser or if they believed they need to leave the workplace to protect their own safety or others.

Included are verification requirements, where victims would have to provide evidence from court or police records or sworn statements from themselves, domestic-violence shelter employees, the clergy or other professionals who helped the victim.

Mary Savage, legal counsel for the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, called the issue “hugely important for survivors of domestic and dating violence. There are so many barriers thrown up against people experiencing intimate partner violence, and these may easily result in the survivor having no choice but to return to, or be drawn back into, that abusive relationship.”

Savage noted that abusers often try to sabotage their victim’s employment and that victims often need to miss work for counseling, court proceedings or doctor appointments. “This bill would create much-needed protections for workers and bring down some of those barriers, so they can move on with their lives and become independent of that abusive partner,” she said.

Kulkarni said there is a good reason she is proposing the bill now.

“October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and because Kentucky has been at the forefront of helping those abused in these types of cases,” Kulkarni said. “Making this change would add to that record and would mean so much to so many who may feel they have nowhere else to turn.”

The 2021 General Assembly convenes Jan. 5.

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