State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, has introduced a bill to protect domestic violence survivors from losing their jobs or being discriminated against at work.
Senate Bill 400 would prevent employers from firing or discriminating against an employee who has been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. SB 400 would also require employers to make reasonable efforts to protect these crime victims from their abuser or stalker, such as changing their work telephone number, relocating their desk, or implementing a workplace safety plan.
“Without a steady paycheck, domestic violence survivors can find themselves trapped in abusive relationships, without a way out,” Jackson said. “This bill will ensure the stability of their jobs and their safety at work at the time they need it the most.”
A 2011 study by the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center’s Project SURVIVE found that nearly 40 percent of survivors in California reported either being fired or fearing termination due to domestic violence.
While California law allows survivors to take time off work to attend court hearings or get other assistance related to their abuse, it does not prohibit employers from firing employees for being victims or require employers to provide safety accommodations.
A recent client of the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, one of the sponsors of the bill, was fired after 14 years of service when she disclosed to her boss that she was a victim of domestic violence.
“I was cooperative with the police investigation, talked with victim advocates, and testified in court to obtain a workplace restraining order to protect the clients, staff and myself from harm,” the client said. “But I was treated like a criminal, never allowed to return to my office or have contact with many dear friends and colleagues, and never allowed to say goodbye to the clients that I worked with. My whole world turned upside down. I felt betrayed by my employer when I needed support at the most vulnerable time in my life.”
Five states — Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii and Oregon — have laws that protect victims from these forms of discrimination. Several states also require workplace safety accommodations for victims.
Jackson, who is vice-chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, represents the 19th Senate district, which includes Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.