As noted previously in this space, California already permits employees to take many kinds of protected time off not generally available in other parts of the country.  In 2013, California’s Legislature presented workers with even more kinds of legally-protected absences.  It is hard to begrudge leaves of absence for crime victims and emergency volunteers without sounding like the Grinch, but these new laws do add another layer of entitlements for employees and additional administrative tasks and training and potential liabilities for employers.

Expanded Excused Absences for Crime Victims

This legislative season, the California Legislature gave additional statutory employment protection to victims of crimes who take related time off work.  Effective January 1, 2014, Labor Code §§ 230 and 230.1 are amended by SB 400 to extend the existing prohibition against averse action toward victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who take related time off to include victims of stalking.  Similarly, new Labor Code § 230.5 (SB 288) will protect from adverse employment action employees who miss work to go to court because they or their loved ones were victims of serious, violent crimes (murder, sexual assault, child abuse, etc.).

Both new laws allow employers to require a certification (police report, court order, or doctor’s note) within a reasonable amount of time after such an absence.  SB 400 will also require employers to engage in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations (such as transfers, modified schedules, installations of locks, etc.) to victims of stalking, sexual assault and domestic violence.

It would appear that the California Legislature thinks all employers behave like Scrooge.  But was this legislation really necessary?  Supporters would say “Yes.” Proponents of SB 288 said it was because while Proposition 9 in 2008 (also known as Marsy’s Law), gave crime victims the Constitutional right to be heard, upon request, at any proceeding, that right was not employment-protected.  And proponents of SB 400 cited a study by the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (also a bill sponsor), which found that nearly 40% of survivors in California reported either being fired or fearing termination due to domestic violence.

Protected Leaves for Volunteer Emergency Personnel

Also effective January 1, 2014, amended Labor Code § 230.4 will require employers to give up to 14 days per year off to employees to take training as volunteer firefighters, reserve peace officers, and emergency rescue personnel.  Formerly, such time off was permitted only for volunteer firefighters.  Community protection used to be the kind of thing we paid taxes for.  However, in California, employers will be required to bear the burden of helping to supplement the public safety forces.  Call us Ebenezer, but even though the time off for training is not paid, employers will suffer the predictable indirect costs that often occur when employees are absent from work, such as inefficiencies, decline in productivity and overburdening of other employees.

Workplace Solutions:  Don’t wait for the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to visit and scare you into a change in policies.  Be aware that when your employees are crime victims or are volunteer emergency personnel, as of 2014, you may need to respond differently to their requests for time off.  So, revise policies and procedures now, as necessary, and train all supervisory employees on these new requirements so you are prepared to respond promptly and legally if an employee comes to you with a request for time off due to his or her victim or volunteer status.