This week, a California State Assembly committee voted to approve a bill that would bar employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence as well as those who experience stalking or sexual assault. The judiciary committee passed it with a vote of 6–1 and it now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Governor Jerry Brown (D) has not yet taken a position.
Carie Charlesworth, a teacher in California who lost her job thanks to domestic violence, testified before the committee in favor of the bill. When Charlesworth’s abusive husband invaded the school parking lot and put the school on lockdown, he was sent to jail but she was also terminated.
In her testimony, Charlesworth explained why the fear of losing a job is particularly problematic for victims of abuse:
Victims should not have to continue suffering in silence due to the fear they have of losing their jobs. Victims need to be able to speak up about what is happening so they can get the help they need to leave their abusive situation. The fear of losing their job — the way they can support themselves and their families after they leave an abuser — should not be a burden they have to carry.
California’s proposed bill would also require employers to make “reasonable efforts” to protect victims from their abusers or stalkers such as changing a work phone number, relocating a desk, or implementing a workplace safety plan.
Firing someone because they are a victim of domestic violence is not currently barred under California state law. In fact, just six states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island — have laws that bar employment discrimination against victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault. Illinois and Hawaii, as well as New York City and Westchester County, also require employers to offer victims reasonable work accommodations.
Yet domestic abuse often spills over into the workplace. Nearly three-quarters of abused women reported being harassed by their partner while at work. The fear of losing a job can also compound the abuse, as three-quarters of women report staying with their abuser longer for economic reasons.
Given that the state-level protection is sparse, bills have frequently been introduced at the federal level but have yet to gain traction. The Security and Financial Empowerment Act, which would bar employers from discriminating against domestic violence or sexual assault victims, was introduced in the House on March 15. Yet it has been referred to committee and doesn’t have a vote scheduled.