Last week, Legal Aid testified at the D.C. Council in support of the “Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act of 2015” in a joint committee hearing hosted by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Councilmember Vincent Orange.
The proposed bill amends the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act to provide DV survivors greater protections against discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, the bill prohibits an employer from terminating or retaliating against an employee who is a victim of domestic violence and takes time off to obtain medical or legal services related to the violence. The bill also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for DV survivors in order to ensure a safe workplace. At the hearing, there was a broad consensus among Councilmembers, advocates and government officials that the D.C. Office of Human Rights, rather than the Department of Employment Services should be the enforcing agency.
The proposed bill serves a vital role in enabling survivors to maintain their employment and economic security while obtaining relief for the domestic violence. All too often, a Legal Aid client faces the choice between preserving her low-wage job and pursuing time-consuming legal action. Just two weeks ago, a Legal Aid client was forced to drop her Civil Protection Order case against her abuser after her employer threatened to terminate her if she missed more work. A low-income mother living paycheck to paycheck often cannot risk her family’s economic security even in order to protect her own safety.
At the hearing, Legal Aid and other advocates asked the Council to go farther than the proposed bill to protect domestic violence survivors from discrimination in the workplace. Legal Aid attorneys have found that many victims lose their jobs even when they do not request time off work when it is revealed they are the victim of an abusive relationship. One Legal Aid client was terminated on the spot after her abuser showed up at her workplace and yelled and assaulted her. As a result of cases like this, Drake Hagner of Legal Aid called on the Council to implement further measures to ensure victims are not discriminated against on the basis of their status as a victim of domestic violence alone.
At the hearing, Legal Aid was joined by a host of other advocates in pushing for greater employment protections for DV victims, including: D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Network for Victim Recovery of D.C., D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project, District Alliance for Safe Housing and the Employment Justice Center.