Domestic violence survivors could get new protections from workplace discrimination

The proposed bill easily passed the House of Representatives.

A proposed bill that easily passed the House of Representatives would provide discrimination protections for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

HB 2661 makes it unlawful for an employer to fire employee or discriminate in hiring based on victimization of sexual assault or domestic violence. It also mandates employers to provide reasonable safety accommodation if a victim requests it.

Lawmakers heard the bill in the Senate Committee for Labor and Commerce on Monday, Feb. 19.

“Being employed is absolutely key and a huge help to women and others who are experiencing domestic violence to get out of the situation,” the bill’s prime sponsor Representative Beth Doglio, D-Olympia said.

Under Washington’s existing Domestic Violence Leave Act, all employees have a right to take unpaid time off work, or earn paid leave to obtain assistance for issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This is meant to help victims and their families address legal issues, obtain treatment for physical or mental health, or find other services.

David Ward, an attorney for Legal Voice, a women’s rights legal advocacy group, said the bill is a way to close a gap in existing protections for people with abusive partners. It ensures a legal remedy if an employee is discriminated against based on his or her status as a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, he said.

For instance, he told a story about a woman who worked as a server at a restaurant and had to take out a protection order against a violent former partner. Ward said she was fired after telling her employer that she had the protection order. Under existing law, she had no legal remedy for her loss of employment.

Often times, an abusive partner will undermine a victim’s employment as a deliberate effort to keep them under their financial control, Tamaso Johnson, public policy coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said.

“Stable employment and access to reasonable accommodations on the job can be a vital bridge to safety, stability, and independence for many,” Johnson said during the bill’s hearing. “When survivors lack these options and protections, the results can be tragic.”

In its Fatality Review Project, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence tracked cases in which perpetrators of domestic violence kill their partner.

Part of the project includes a report on economic stability related to domestic violence. It showed that seven out of nine cases reviewed, a victim of domestic violence homicide was economically dependant on her abuser.

Under the proposed bill, an employer is allowed to require verification for the safety accommodation an employee is seeking. The accommodation also has to be within the employer’s reasonable ability.

Tammie Hetrick, chief operating officer for the Washington Retail Association, said she anticipates some retail employers not being able to accommodate some survivor’s needs. For instance, it’s hard to enforce protection orders an employee may require in a retail setting. She suggested working with the Washington Labor and Industries crime victim program to clarify employer responsibilities.

The bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously February 7 and was heard in the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce on Monday, Feb. 19. It is scheduled for executive session in that committee on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

Attendees gather after the Dec. 21, 2018, meeting at Seattle’s Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Washington indigenous communities push for action to address violence against women

A new law seeks to strength data collection on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Exit poll indicates Washington voters still support climate change action

State environmental organizations’ poll points to continuing support for carbon-reducing measures.

Wikimedia Commons CFCF photo
Proposed law would raise age limit for tobacco sales in WA

Lawmakers cite health concerns over tobacco and vape products

AR-15 rifle and a loaded magazine that were recovered from a suspect in a shooting incident at the Kent Station parking garage. Photo courtesy of King County Sheriff’s Office
Democrats to focus on 30-round magazines and ghost guns in 2019

Following gun control success on the November ballot, state Democrats are eyeing further regulation.

Metro revises timeline for RapidRide bus expansion

After originally aiming to build 20 additional fast-service bus lines on high demand routes by 2040, King County Metro has changed its construction timelines and put 13 of those projects on hold.

Rape allegation against Sen. Joe Fain divides King County Council

In a recent interview, Councilmember Kathy Lambert blamed Fain’s accuser for the alleged rape. Then Lambert’s colleagues distanced themselves from her comments.

The man on Iron Mountain

Chuck Pillon has been living on a 10-acre junk-filled property near Renton for decades.

Safe consumption part 3: The opposite of addiction

Final episode of our three-part series on controversial supervised consumption sites

Safe consumption: The debate

In the first of a three-part series, we enter into the heated, emotional, and sometimes bitter debate around one of the most controversial policy proposals in the country.

Olympic National Park to start capturing mountain goats this summer

Park Service releases record of decision on relocating, killing animals

Legislators and activists seek solutions to farmer suicides

Agricultural workers end their own lives at a higher rate than workers in any other profession.

The Rev. Michael Curry, left, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month, was in Aberdeen on Saturday afternoon for a rally that sought to highlight homelessness. Photo by Scott Johnston
Bishop Curry speaks at Aberdeen affordable-housing rally

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month.