On Jan. 1, 2014, California will become the seventh state in the U.S. to ban workplace discrimination against people because they are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. The law, just signed by Governor Jerry Brown, will also require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees to help keep them safe from an abuser while they are at work.
With 43 states still without such a law, the country has a long way to go to accommodate employees who are victims of violence or stalking. Currently, only 13 states even require employers to allow their workers time off without jeopardizing their job if they have been injured, if they need to get medical, psychological or legal help, or if they have to appear in court. The laws in those states vary significantly regarding the amount of time off that employees are allowed - from three days in Colorado to 12 weeks in Connecticut. The time off is unpaid in both of these cases.
Under the new California law, in addition to being forbidden from discriminating against an employee because they are a victim of violence or harassment, employers are required to take reasonable steps to protect them at work, by doing things such as changing their telephone number, moving their desk, or putting a safety plan into place. These workplace requirements are significant because almost 75 percent of abused women say that their abuser has followed them in one way or another to their workplace.
This new law will give California victims of abuse and stalking one less concern about going to authorities. The statistics linking domestic violence and economic concerns speak for themselves. Three-fourths of women have reported that they stayed with their abuser out of financial necessity, while a fifth of homeless women have listed domestic violence as their primary reason for being homeless.
As we see in many employment discrimination cases of all kinds, employers often try to claim that a termination or other form of workplace discrimination was for a non-protected reason. This new law will at least make employers think twice before terminating or demoting an employee because their situation is impacting their job or the workplace. It will also give these employees legal recourse if their employer does not do the right thing.
Think Progress, "California Now Seventh State To Bar Employment Discrimination Against Domestic Violence Victims" Bryce Covert, Oct. 15, 2013