California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 2337, strengthening the job protections for victims of domestic violence, and ensuring those who work for employers with 25 or more employees are notified of protected time-off rights for domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, without threat of termination or retaliation. The Bill’s author, Assemblymember Autumn Burke (representing the 62nd California Assembly District, including the cities of Inglewood and El Segundo, as well as coastal Los Angeles and L.A. County), proclaimed that “victims of domestic violence shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their safety.”
Labor Code Section 230 already prohibited employers of 25 or more from discriminating or retaliating against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, for taking time off from work for specified purposes. AB 2337 establishes the additional requirement that employers provide written notice of these already-existing rights to new employees “upon hire,” and to current employees “upon request.”
The statute as now amended protects time off for: (1) seeking a temporary restraining order or other injunctive relief to help ensure the health, safety, or welfare of the employee and/or his or her child; (2) seeking medical attention; (3) obtaining services from a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center; (4) obtaining psychological counseling; and/or (5) participating in safety planning or relocation.
The Bill also requires the Labor Commissioner to develop a standard form for employer use by July 1, 2017. Until the Labor Commissioner posts the form to the Commission’s website, employers are not required to comply with these notice requirements. Alternatively, employers may develop and use their own notice as long as it is “substantially similar in content and clarity” to the Labor Commissioner’s form.
Despite Assemblymember Burke’s proclamation of removing the Hobson’s choice between employees’ job and their safety, it is unclear whether the amendment was necessary. Well before the introduction of AB 2337, California employers have been providing notice to employees in a variety of ways. For example, many employers give notice of domestic violence leave rights in handbooks distributed to employees upon hire and with updates to existing employees. Indeed, best practices dictate that employers provide a list of leaves, and the circumstances triggering rights in stand-alone documents, as well as handbook and company intranet advisory information. HR departments are often active in informing employees of their rights when they take note of circumstances, even without employees notifying their employers of their exact situations. Moreover, employers should download the Labor Commissioner’s new template once available and incorporate its language into all new hire offer letters.
The 21st century model of best practices for employee relations includes supportive measures to ensure the health and welfare of the workforce as a paramount goal. Whether mandated by legislation or instituted by employee action, these supportive measures should emphasize the cooperation between employer and employee, without stigmatizing either for their ability to ensure the rights of the other. Employers are often first to show cooperation, flexibility and protective measures when employees experience significantly troubling time in their personal lives.