On Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law that bars employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence and those who experience stalking or sexual assault.
The new law, which will take effect on January 1, makes it unlawful for an employer to fire or otherwise discriminate against a worker based on the fact that he or she is a victim. It also entitles victims to “reasonable” safety accommodations in the workplace, such as changing a work telephone number, relocating a desk, or implementing a workplace safety plan.
The bill was introduced in California after Carie Charlesworth, a teacher in the state, was fired when her abusive husband invaded her school’s parking lot and put the school on lockdown. Charlesworth testified about the bill when it was being considered, saying, “Victims should not have to continue suffering in silence due to the fear they have of losing their jobs,” pointing out that they “need to be able to speak up about what is happening so they can get the help they need to leave their abusive situation.”
California joins just six other states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island — in having protections for victims on the books. In the 43 others, victims who are fired due to their abuse may not have legal recourse. Illinois, Hawaii, New York City, and Westchester County go further to mandate reasonable workplace accommodations so victims can stay on the job. While a federal law was introduced in March that would ensure that workers in every state are protected, it has gone no where, without being referred to committee or getting a scheduled vote.
Meanwhile, only 13 states mandate that victims can take leave without being fired to seek medical attention, recover from injuries, seek out services and legal assistance, get counseling, relocate, or participate in court proceedings. The laws vary widely, from three days of unpaid time off in Colorado to 12 weeks in Connecticut, while other states simply say workers can take “reasonable” time away from work.
Victims can experience financial discrimination in other ways as well. “Crime-free housing” ordinances that are growing in popularity across the country can mean victims get evicted from their apartments for calling the police on their abusers a certain number of times. There are about 60 of those ordinances across the country, and while 25 states and DC have laws that are meant to protect victims who call the police, some are very weak and have prohibitive documentation requirements.
Economic constraints only serve to exacerbate abuse. Three-quarters of women say they stated longer with their abuser than they otherwise would have due to economic troubles. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of abused women have been harassed at work. Twenty percent of homeless women say the primary reason they lack housing is because of domestic violence.