N.Y. Legislature Introduces Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence
By Lisa Lewis and Rachel Tischler*
The N.Y. State Senate and Assembly recently introduced “competing” bills both targeting increased employment protections for victims of domestic violence. The bills each provide various measures of job security for employees who need to be absent from work on the basis of a domestic violence issue.
This is not the first time state lawmakers have attempted to introduce protections for victims of domestic violence. In 2010, the Assembly introduced a bill protecting domestic violence victims from job or housing discrimination. The bill was ultimately vetoed by then-Governor Paterson who was concerned that the definition of “domestic violence victim” was overbroad. The Assembly bill now looks to Social Services Law, while the Senate bill looks to the Family Court Act and N.Y. Penal Law, for a definition of “victim of domestic violence.” Arguably, the definitions contained in the proposed bills provide a more focused understanding of the term domestic violence victim.
The Senate bill (S2509), introduced on January 18, 2013, seeks to amend New York Labor Law by providing ninety days of unpaid leave to employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence. This leave can be applied to a number of actions, including seeking medical attention, attending counseling sessions, and seeking legal assistance, to name a few. As with FMLA leave, the proposed leave can be taken intermittently, employees must provide reasonable notice when feasible, and employers can require certification of any leave requests. The Senate bill also requires that employees be restored to their previous positions or to an equivalent position upon return from leave, and accrued benefits must be maintained by employees taking leave. Finally, the Senate bill prohibits discrimination or retaliation against employees who exercise their rights and provides that violations can expose an employer to potential punitive liability equal to 25% of the total damages.
The Assembly bill (A898), introduced on January 9, 2013, seeks to amend the New York State Human Rights Law. This bill is mainly aimed at prohibiting employers from discrimination in employment on the basis of an employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence. The bill also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations of employees who are victims of domestic violence by allowing them absence from work, although employers may decline to do so on the basis of undue hardship. Employees would be required to give advanced notice when feasible, and similar to the Senate bill, leave time can be taken to seek medical attention, counseling, or services, or to engage in safety planning, among other reasons relating to domestic violence issues. The Assembly bill allows employers to charge any leave against accrued paid time off, requiring unpaid leave once the employee runs out of accrued paid time off, and it also allows employers to require certification of any leave requests.
There appears to be support in the Senate for the Assembly Bill since two Senators sponsored a third bill (S3385) that is identical to the Assembly Bill in early February. All three bills have moved into committee and are currently pending. We will continue to monitor the progress of these bills and keep you apprised of any developments.
*Rachel Tischler is a law school intern currently attending Brooklyn Law School.