New Law Requires Washington Employers to Protect Workers from Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Domestic Violence in the WorkplaceLast week, we started a series of blogs on new State of Washington laws going into effect in June that will affect how employers manage an individual’s legal rights and physical protections in the workplace.  In this blog, we will look at Washington’s new Domestic Violence in the Workplace law that prohibits employment discrimination against domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims and requires employers to take measures to protect the safety of an employee from particular threats to the employee’s well-being.

Seasoned employers are well-aware that occasionally employees’ personal situations can quite seriously impact their work lives.  Employees who are the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking are particularly susceptible to suffering adverse consequences from such trauma in the workplace.  Domestic conflicts can compromise the physical safety of the individual employee and everyone present in the workplace.  Domestic violence, a history of sexual assault and stalking can also impair an employee’s ability to obtain or maintain employment. The economic consequences of job discrimination against victims of domestic violence can be devastating.

Domestic Violence Leave

Historically, the State of Washington has been proactive in protecting employees who are victims of domestic violence.  The state’s Domestic Violence Leave Law has been in place since 2008.  This law attempts to redress some of the physical, emotional and financial effects that domestic violence can have on an employee by allowing victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking leave from work to handle legal or law enforcement needs, seek treatment for physical and mental injuries, obtain social services, seek mental health counseling, participate in safety planning, relocate, or take other actions to increase safety from future incidents.  The law also allows family members of victims to take leave to help the victim obtain medical treatment, legal assistance and social services.

Employment Discrimination Against Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Victims

This year, Washington enacted the Domestic Violence in the Workplace Law to ensure that victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking are able to seek and maintain employment without fear of discrimination or retaliation.  Specifically, the new law (House Bill 2661) prohibits an employer from: (1) refusing to hire an otherwise qualified individual because the individual is or is perceived to be a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, (2) discriminating or retaliating against an individual because the individual is or is perceived to be a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or (3) refusing a reasonable safety accommodation requested by a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Prohibited discrimination or retaliation includes discharging, threatening to discharge, demoting, suspending or in any manner discriminating against an applicant or employee with regard to promotion, compensation or other terms, conditions or privileges of employment.

Reasonable Safety Accommodations

In addition to the protection from discrimination, the new law also requires employers to provide reasonable safety accommodations requested by an applicant or employee who is the victim domestic violence.  The new law identifies a number of reasonable safety accommodations an employer might make in response to actual or threatened domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. These include:

  • Job transfers
  • Reassignment
  • Modified work schedule
  • Changed work telephone number
  • Changed work email address
  • Changed workstation
  • Installed lock
  • Implemented safety procedure, or
  • Any other adjustment to a job structure, workplace facility, or work requirement to increase a victim’s safety/

The does not require an employer to implement a safety accommodation that would impose an undue hardship on the business.  The also details verification options should the employer require verification that a reasonable safety accommodation is needed to protect the employee from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  An employer and designated representatives must maintain the confidentiality of all information provided by the employee.

Remedies for Violations

An employee or applicant whose rights under the law have been violated may file a civil action against his or her employer.  The remedies include injunctive relief and damages together with court costs and attorneys’ fees.  The law is effective on June 7, 2018.

Posting Notice

State administrative rules (WAC 296-135-200) implementing the amended code section require posing a notice in the workplace that is visible to applicants and employees.  We expect the state update the “Your Rights as a Worker” posting with the new domestic violence protections shortly before the law goes into on June 7, 2018.  Check our upcoming Washington blog posts for additional posting updates and other Washington laws that will impact your workplace.

Update 6/2018:  The Department of Labor & Industries Employment Standards Program has advised us that “the posters are not required to be updated immediately when laws change.  The poster update is required at the next scheduled printing and will most likely be next year.”

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