Governor Paterson Signs Legislation Protecting Domestic Violence Victims from Workplace Discrimination

August 3, 2009

By: Subhash Viswanathan

On July 7, 2009, Governor Paterson signed into law legislation which became effective immediately and prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual because of actual or perceived status as a victim of domestic violence or stalking. Specifically, the law prohibits an employer from refusing to hire or employ such individuals, barring or discharging them from employment, or discriminating against them with respect to their compensation or their terms, conditions and privileges of employment. As a result, New York Law now prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of “age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status.”

According to the sponsor of the legislation, this amendment was necessary since many women stay with their abuser because they lack alternative financial resources for themselves and their children, and because escaping an abusive relationship often depends on financial independence, which means finding and keeping a job. Furthermore, according to the sponsor, it is not unusual for a victim of domestic violence to be terminated from her job or demoted because she needs time off or flexible hours as a protective measure. By making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against victims of domestic violence in hiring or employment practices, the law’s goal is thus to help ensure the safety as well as the economic viability of victims.

Employers should also be aware that another existing New York law provides additional protection to victims of domestic violence. Section 215.14 of the New York Penal Law, a statute of general application, requires employers to provide employees with an unpaid leave to appear as a witness, consult with the district attorney, or exercise the employee’s statutory rights under the law. Obviously, a victim of domestic violence might need one or more of these types of leave. To use this leave, the employee may provide notice of the need for leave at any time prior to the actual day of leave. Employers are permitted to ask the party who sought the attendance or testimony of the employee to provide verification of the employee's service. Penalizing or discharging an employee for absences by reason of a required appearance as a witness in a criminal proceeding or consultation with the district attorney or exercise of his or her rights as provided under law constitutes a class B misdemeanor.