March 13, 2007 > Watercooler Counsel
Women and the Law
By Rich Proulx & Malinda Tuazon
Q: I am a victim of domestic violence. Two weeks ago, I needed to take time off work to go to court and get a restraining order against my husband. I showed my boss the court documents and explained a little about my situation and he seemed genuinely concerned for me. A few days later, he called me back into his office and told me he was going to let me go. He said he didn't want to be dealing with any "riff-raff" and that he needed an employee he could depend on. Being fired from a job right now is the last thing I need-what can I do?
A: You're absolutely right-being fired from a job is certainly the last thing you need right now. Fortunately for you, the public has begun to recognize domestic violence as the pervasive problem it really is. In fact, according to Legal Momentum, a New York organization working to advance women's rights, nearly 50% of domestic violence survivors report having "lost a job due, at least in part, to the violence in their lives." Several states, including California, have laws which ensure job-guaranteed leave for victims of domestic violence to seek a restraining order, to seek medical care, or to make arrangements to leave their batterer. Your employer may have violated California Labor Code Section 230 and we advise you to contact the CA Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to file a complaint. In fact, you may want to think about filing a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC if your employer treats abused women differently from male employees.
If you know of men who have taken leave from work to attend court (even if the subject matter was different) and were not fired, you should contact the EEOC or the California DFEH immediately. In order to deal with your immediate situation, you should contact your state unemployment office, the CA Employment Development Department-individuals are entitled to receive unemployment benefits if they are terminated through no fault of their own, and domestic violence has been identified as one of those situations. It may also be helpful to contact a local domestic violence resource agency or shelter-they generally have connections with organizations that can help you with these and other legal issues.
Q: I'm the Human Resources Director for my company and I'm getting tired of all of the sexual harassment complaints coming across my desk. I've been working for 30 years and it seems like these girls constantly complain about things we just have to put up with working in an office. I hate to waste company resources investigating every case to find out they're mostly incidents of hypersensitivity.
Frustrated in Fremont
A: We definitely understand how differences of perception muddy the waters of any harassment investigation. But, your job as HR Director is to listen to the complaints of your workforce and determine the best way to proceed so as to ensure the best working conditions for everyone involved. You need to approach each complaint with an open and fresh mind, giving the complainants the benefit of the doubt. You need to promptly investigate, and take all actions needed to end whatever harassment is going on. If you find that you are burned out by the complaints, there's a good chance that you aren't able to put yourself into the shoes of these women, and objectively carry out this duty. You may even be a serious liability to your employer.
A pro-active way of helping to avoid frivolous complaints is to conduct sexual harassment training for all employees on a regular basis. This has the added benefit of letting potential harassers know what is and is not appropriate, thereby saving time, resources, and the company's reputation.
Our team of government experts is happy to investigate all of your questions, even the ones that seem frivolous. March is Women's History Month, but men made history in 2006 by filing a record 15% of sexual harassment charges with the EEOC. Send your questions to Watercooler.Counsel@eeoc.gov. Rich is a former Supervisory Investigator and Malinda is a current Federal Investigator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission www.eeoc.gov. Identifying information in the questions may be fictional.