Workplace protections for domestic violence victims gaining momentum

Employment anti-discrimination laws are commonplace. A federal law, known as Title VII of the Civil Right Act, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, and sex, among others. States have passed their own anti-discrimination laws as well expanding this list of protected categories.

California, for instance, recently passed a law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of domestic violence.

Understanding domestic violence discrimination in the workplace

Essentially, domestic violence can come in many forms. It can include physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. It can affect victims' lives and those they regularly come into contact with-including their employers.

Victims of domestic violence often become distracted at work due to the stress of the abuse. And, in some instances, abusers will continuously call and harass their victims or even show up at victims' place of employment. And, as a result, victims and their co-workers often feel endangered. Unfortunately, some victims of domestic violence have been fired due to the disruption.

Laws protecting workplace discrimination against victims

However, a half dozen states, including Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, have passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against or taking negative action against workers experiencing domestic violence.

The laws in Illinois, Hawaii, New York City and Westchester County even mandate that employers provide reasonable accommodations to victims, such as changing workers' telephone numbers, relocating workers or implementing safety strategies.

Protection in California

California is the seventh and most recent state to pass a workplace anti-discrimination law for domestic violence victims. Advocates took action after a California teacher was fired after her abusive husband caused the school to lockdown after showing up on the school grounds.

The new California law specifically "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." The California law also includes reasonable accommodation mandates as well.

No recourse in remaining 43 states

However, in the remaining 43 states, domestic violence victims do not have legal recourse under state law in the event they are fired or discriminated against.

Nor do they under federal law. A federal law providing for worker protection for domestic violence victims was introduced earlier this year, however, it stalled completely and never even went to committee for review.

The California law will take effect January 1, 2014. It remains to be seen whether other states will follow suit in the years to come.