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Bill proposed: Job protection for domestic violence victims

August 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's a move in Sacramento to keep victims of domestic violence from being victimized twice.

A private school near San Diego fired veteran second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth after her ex-husband violated a restraining order by showing up at her school, where their four kids also attend. Nobody was hurt, and he was arrested, but she was fired.

Her school said as a domestic violence victim, her presence there was putting others at risk.

"They just imagined the worst, and their response was to take away the person that is seen as the threat, which was me," said Charlesworth. "And we were told to stay away from the school. All five of us."

"It's a top priority measure for the Women's Caucus,'" said State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). Jackson is pushing a measure that would give job protection to victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assaults -- in other words, they can't be fired because of those circumstances. That'll apply until safety is no longer an issue.

The bill also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to ensure safety. The idea is to encourage people to come forward, not only to police, but also their bosses.

"It's an important bill because we all know that unknown dangers are greater than known dangers," said Jackson.

Opponents want to ensure victims' safety, but aren't sure if employers should bear all the burden in making sure the workplace is safe.

"Changing the locks and making sure that there's a secure environment, time off work -- I think this is going to be one more reason why employers will say, 'Well gee, the cost to do business in California is so high that I'm going to locate elsewhere,'" said state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks).

An Assembly committee put the bill on hold while it analyzes the cost to implement such workplace protections. It won't help Carie Charlesworth if the proposal wins approval, but it could change perceptions.

"I just think that it's one step forward for people to not have this negative image of domestic violence," said Charlesworth.

A 2011 study by the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center found nearly 40 percent of domestic-violence survivors in California reported being fired or feared termination.

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