Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Expansion of FMLA and Title VII to Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Up For Vote Next Week


Back to the sausage grinder of politics in a presidential election year. Next week the Senate has agreed to take up a bill greatly desired by the pro-life movement. Although it has passed the House on several occasions, including this session, it has never been voted on in the Senate. See the story at LifeNews for some of the history on that legislation.

The key for employers however is that two amendments are to be offered, including one by Senator Patty Murray from Washington, known as the "Paul and Sheila Wellstone Domestic Violence Prevention Act," named for the late Minnesota Senator and his wife, who with others perished in a plane accident. A copy of the text of the amendment and an analysis of its impact can be found on the Working For the Future website, the home of the coalition trying to reform the FMLA. Rather than doing that, the coalition is now faced with fighting what is going to be a very difficult political vote in this election year.

Although domestic violence is certainly a problem and one that does need to be addressed by both the employer community and Congress it should be done in a much more organized fashion than passing a complex, expansive bill in the middle of an election year. The legislation would cover victims of sexual and domestic violence, which is defined to include "an individual who has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence and an individual whose family or household member has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence." Those protected would be entitled to Title VII type protection against discrimination, FMLA type leave and a liberalization of requirements for unemployment.

Normally, such an expansive piece of legislation would be subject to much more scrutiny which would allow potential problems to be surfaced, negotiated and compromised. But in the world of partisan politics as played, particularly in an election year, this will apparently be an up or down vote, with no amendments to Senator Murray's amendment being permitted. That may ultimately be its downfall as one need look no further than the definition of those covered to see if Congress passes the bill in this form it will almost certainly be extending these new protections to individuals who commit domestic violence since in a large number of cases, they will be an "individual whose family or household member has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence."

This is too important an issue to be rushed through in such a manner. It might be wise for employers to make sure that their Senators understand their position on this bill.

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