New protections for victims of domestic, sexual violence

HONOLULU — The Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission on Friday announced its plans to enforce a new state law protecting victims of domestic or sexual violence against employment discrimination.

“It is appropriate that we start our public education and outreach on this new civil rights protection during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” HCRC executive director Bill Hoshijo said in a press release.

In 2011, the Legislature passed SB 229, which was signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and enacted as Act 206.

When the new law takes effect on Jan. 1 it will be illegal for an employer to refuse to hire or employ; bar or discharge from employment; or to discriminate against any individual because of domestic or sexual violence victim status.

Hawai‘i becomes the fifth state to include protections against employment discrimination on the basis of domestic or sexual violence victim status in its civil rights or fair employment laws, joining Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and Oregon.

Hawai‘i’s current victims leave law requires employers to allow an employee who is a victim or the parent of a minor child who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence to take unpaid leave to seek medical attention, obtain services from a victim services organization, obtain psychological or other counseling services, temporarily or permanently relocate, or to take legal action, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or resulting from the domestic or sexual violence.

In addition to prohibiting employment discrimination against victims of domestic and sexual violence, Act 206 amends the victims protections law to require employers to make reasonable accommodations for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

“This is an important step towards addressing, reducing, and eliminating violence by providing safety for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the workplace,” Hoshijo said. “Employers and employees can work together to expand existing workplace violence policies and practices to protect the safety of all employees. This can be done without blaming the victim and cutting off employment and income when it is critical to the worker who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence.”

The HCRC will hold a public hearing on Act 206 on Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the University of Hawai‘i William S. Richardson School of Law. Public comment and testimony is welcome.

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