Tuesday, March 08, 2005

New North Carolina Laws on Domestic Violence Bring Little Immediate Change

Two new North Carolina laws meant to protect workers from domestic violence and its repercussions on the job have had little impact in the months since they were enacted. Advocates for victims say they are still being fired for losing work time to cope with their situation, and few employers appear to be taking advantage of their new right to order abusers to stay away from the workplace. "Employers can't let you go for taking time off to get a restraining order," said Johnny Lee, head of the anti-violence advocacy group Peace at Work. "But they can fire you for being a domestic violence victim."

One new law, which went into effect in October, is meant to protect workers from being fired, demoted or disciplined if they take reasonable time off to seek a protective order against an abuser. Another, effective in December, allows employers to file restraining orders on behalf of workers who may be victimized by abusers at work. Of 144 wrongful termination cases filed this year with the state Department of Labor, one in January involves a Charlotte woman who claims she was fired while securing a restraining order - the first complaint filed under that provision of the new law, state officials say. Lee, based in Raleigh, noted that the law does not define "reasonable," adding that securing a restraining order, which includes court appearances, can take as many as three days. Of 380 restraining orders filed in Mecklenburg County so far this year, only one came from an employer. Sheriff's records show the Westin Charlotte hotel filed a restraining order last week on behalf of a concierge. Hotel officials declined to discuss details, but the company told The Charlotte Observer in a statement that it applauds the state for passing a law that "enables businesses to proactively protect our employees.

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