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

Walkers rest amid the trees at Island Center Forest on Vashon Island, which is part of King County. Many trees around Western Washington are struggling, including Western hemlock on Vashon, likely from drought stress. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh
King County forests are facing new challenges

Hot, dry summers are stressing native tree species in Western Washington.

Washington State Capitol Building. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Legislation targets rape kit backlog

WA has about 10,000 untested kits; new law would reduce testing time to 45 days

Federal Way resident competes for top 20 spot on ‘American Idol’

Todd Beamer senior Myra Tran previously won “The X-Factor Vietnam” in 2016.

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources/Kari Greer
Western Washington faces elevated wildfire risk in 2019

Humans cause majority of fires in state

Defense Distributed’s 3D printed gun, The Liberator. Photo by Vvzvlad/Wikimedia Commons
‘Ghost gun’ bill moves to Senate committees

Legislation would make 3-D printed guns illegal.

Michelle Obama brings largest crowd of book tour to Tacoma Dome

Former First Lady and author of ‘Becoming’ spends afternoon with local book club prior to event.

A man addresses the King County Council during a public hearing March 20 at New Life Church in Renton. He presented bags filled with what he said was hazardous materials dropped on his property by bald eagles. Another speaker made similar claims. Haley Ausbun/staff photo
Locals show support for King County waste to energy plant

Public hearing on landfill’s future was held March 20 in Renton.

After being homeless, Christy X (pictured) moved into her Coniston Arms Apartments unit in Seattle at the beginning of 2019. She had bounced around from shelters to friends’ places after facing an eviction at her West Seattle apartment in October 2018. A diversion program run by the nonprofit Mary’s Place helped her find housing. File photo
State lawmakers consider eviction reform legislation

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, is bill’s prime sponsor.

Gov. Jay Inlsee signs into law the Native American Voting Rights Act, which allows a non-traditional address to be used for voter registration for residents who live on reservations. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Native American Voting Rights Act signed into law

Non-traditional addresses can be used for voter registration on tribal lands

The Cedar Hills Regional Landfill is the only active landfill in King County. It will operate until at least 2028. It has been in operation since the 1960s. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Waste study puts numbers behind King County trash alternatives

County has one remaining landfill located near Maple Valley, and it’s nearing capacity

Courtesy photo
State lawmakers seek permanent daylight saving time in Washington

Senate and House are working toward compromise on two bills; voters could decide in November election

U.S. is now grounding Renton-made 737 MAX 8 and 9; Boeing supports decision

Update: The decision does not affect Renton production lines.