Domestic Violence Employment Protections Bill Heads to Governor

Domestic Violence Employment Protections Bill Heads to Governor
September 12, 2013

Yesterday the California Legislature approved 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. SB 400 now heads to Governor Brown, who has until October 13, 2013 to act on the measure.  Please take action today to show your support for this esssential piece of legislation.

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 bill also entitles victims to reasonable safety accommodations at the workplace.

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking 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’s Project SURVIVE, nearly 40% of survivors were fired or feared termination due to domestic violence.   

“The most common reason that victims choose to stay in, or return to, violent relationships is economic insecurity,” said Kathy Moore, Interim Executive Director for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “It’s imperative that survivors have job security, so they can get themselves out of danger without fear that they’ll be penalized if they reveal their status as domestic violence victims. SB 400 is a crucial safeguard for these vulnerable workers.”

While California law allows survivors to take job-protected time off work to obtain court relief or other assistance related to abuse, it does not expressly bar employers from firing employees just for being victims. Nor does it specifically require employers to provide safety accommodations to those experiencing abuse. 

LAS-ELC hears from many survivors who are struggling to maintain their employment while keeping themselves and their families safe. A recent caller was fired 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.

LAS-ELC Staff Attorney Rachael Langston said, “Without the means to support themselves and their children, survivors often feel they have no choice but to remain in a violent relationship.” 

Langston added, “We are thrilled that SB 400 is one step closer to becoming law, and are heartened by the Legislature’s recognition of how vital this bill is to the safety and economic security of survivors.”

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

Six states – Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island, as well as Puerto Rico – already have laws that protect victims from discrimination and several of these laws also provide for safety-related accommodations. 

SB 400 is cosponsored by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including women’s, labor and civil rights groups, law enforcement, and employers such as Williams-Sonoma, Inc.   The bill has no opposition.