Domestic Violence Employment Protections Bill Becomes Law

Domestic Violence Employment Protections Bill Becomes Law
October 11, 2013

Today, Governor Brown signed SB 400, a bill authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to provide employment protections to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  The new law will take effect January 1, 2014.

SB 400 makes it unlawful for an employer to terminate or otherwise discriminate against an employee based on his or her known status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  The law also entitles victims to reasonable safety accommodations at the workplace.

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking can have a harmful effect on the ability of victims to maintain employment, jeopardizing a victim’s safety and stable source of income. According to a recent study conducted by Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC), nearly 40% of survivors were fired or feared termination due to domestic violence.   

“On behalf of California’s domestic violence advocates we want to thank Governor Brown for signing SB 400,” said Kathy Moore, interim executive director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “Both he and Senator Jackson should be commended for their leadership on this issue. The new law will ensure that domestic violence victims won’t have to worry about job security as they struggle to rebuild their lives.”

Rachael Langston, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, said, “We applaud Governor Brown and Senator Jackson for protecting the economic security and safety of survivors of violence.” Langston added, “Without the means to support themselves and their children, survivors often feel they have no choice but to remain in a violent relationship.”  “SB 400 will ensure that survivors can maintain their employment while keeping themselves and their families safe.”

“I commend the Governor for signing this bill, which protects victims from job loss and discrimination at a time when they most need support and a steady paycheck,” said State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). “Victims will no longer fear losing their livelihoods and being re-victimized in the workplace because of the actions of their abusers. They will no longer fear retribution if they talk about these issues with an employer. And we will no longer send the mistaken message to employees that silence about these issues in the workplace is the same as safety.”

Jackson added, “I strongly believe that an unknown threat to a workplace is much more dangerous than a known threat. With information, employees and employers can work together to make a victim safer, their co-workers safer, and the entire workplace safer.”

As the bill made its way through the Legislature, Carie Charlesworth, a former San Diego area teacher who made national news headlines when she was let go from her teaching job after her abusive ex-husband visited her school campus, became a proponent of the bill, traveling to Sacramento and testifying in support of it.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to know that because SB 400 has been signed into law, thousands of domestic violence victims won’t have to experience what I did – the devastation and financial uncertainty of losing a job and their professional identity just because they are victims of domestic violence,” said Charlesworth. “I am thankful to Senator Jackson for all the time and effort she put into this legislation. And I am grateful to her for allowing me to make a difference and be a vocal proponent of this bill. I am also thankful that the Governor signed this important legislation. Domestic violence is an important issue that needs to be addressed. By signing SB 400, the Governor is helping victims better their lives without the fear of losing their financial security. ”

LAS-ELC hears from many survivors who, like Ms. Charlesworth, are fired upon revealing their status as domestic violence victims.  A recent caller was terminated from her job of 14 years after disclosing to her boss that she was a victim of domestic violence.  Another caller’s manager fired her because she had explained that she was legally changing her name as part of her effort to escape her abuser.

California law already allows survivors to take job-protected time off work to obtain court relief or other assistance related to abuse.  SB 400 adds to these protections by expressly barring employers from firing employees just for being victims.  The new law also specifically requires employers to provide safety accommodations to those experiencing abuse. 

California joins six other states – Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island, as well as Puerto Rico – which have laws that protect victims from discrimination.  Several of these laws also provide for safety-related accommodations. 

SB 400 was cosponsored by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and was supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including women’s, labor and civil rights groups, law enforcement and victim advocates, and employers such as Williams-Sonoma, Inc.