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In a year of chaos, the Covid-19 pandemic, struggles for equality, and a deafening onslaught of political noise, there is another silent yet significant threat to our local communities and families.  Unreported and underreported cases of domestic abuse have risen sharply locally and worldwide.  Some public safety measures, specifically stay-at-home orders, which are designed to protect us from the external threat of Covid-19, are potentially causing an increase of domestic violence at home.  In these instances, both the victim and their abuser are living in the same location, yet with the added obstacle of sheltering-in-place for days or weeks at a time.  As a result, the victims are afforded little opportunity to leave, and it compounds an existing heath crisis even further.

Here in Hawai‘i, the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) is reporting an increase of cases of potential domestic abuse.  Therefore, DVAC has implemented a text and chat feature on their website for discrete and effective accessibility for potential victims. DVAC is committed to stemming domestic violence and abuse through leadership, publicly available services, legal representation, survivor and system advocacy, community education and social change work.

Are you interested in assisting someone who may be in need? Please reach out to anyone you have concerns about to offer your support, make yourself a safe resource, and if at all possible, please consider donating to DVAC.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact:

  • The Hawaii department of Health Hotline:
    • Call: (808) 531-3371
    • Text: (605) 956-5680
  • DVAC O‘ahu Helpline: (808) 531-3771, or use their website’s chat feature.
  • For emergencies: 911

Please also join DVAC in lighting a candle every Wednesday, from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m., during the month of September to raise awareness for those suffering in silence. Together, we can be a torch for change, and let survivors know we are here and committed to their safety.

Today’s New Law in the Brief focuses on a serious new law that helps out people in an unfortunate situation.Act 206 is aimed at creating a protected status for those who have been a victim of domestic violence. Some of you are probably are questioning the need for such a thing because a) you thought this was a already protected status or b) thought what kind of employer fires someone for being the victim of abuse.
Sadly, that was not the case in the State of Hawaii and it was only this year that an employer is prevented from discriminating against those who have been victims. You may ask who is callous enough to fire a woman who is being beaten? Well, the sad truth is that actually is the case and this news post from The Maui News shows this to be the case (and discusses the new law as well).

The Specifics of Law

Act 206 will go into effect next year, January 1, 2012.

The law will protect victims of domestic or sexual violence from employers discriminating against them from status. In general, it aims to prevent wrongful termination or suspension, as was the cast in the Maui News story. However, for the victim to be availed this protection the employer has to be notified from the victim or have actual knowledge. Furthermore, the employer must make reasonable accommodations for the victim, so long as it does cause an undue hardship. The law is very much fashioned similar to the ADA.

The employer is allowed to request verification of an employee’s continued status. In many cases, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued and does end at some point or the victim’s persecutor is put away, and thus the need for protection ends.

Finally, the law also creates a civil remedy (money) for employee-victims denied their reasonable accommodation under the law.

Reasonable Accommodations for Victim-Employees

The law offers up some reasonable accommodation measures that an employer should do to help the victim-employee and they are as follows:

(1) Changing the contact information, such as telephone numbers, fax numbers, or electronic-mail addresses, of the employee;
(2) Screening the telephone calls of the employee;
(3) Restructuring the job functions of the employee;
(4) Changing the work location of the employee;
(5) Installing locks and other security devices; and
(6) Allowing the employee to work flexible hours;

provided that an employer shall not be required to make the reasonable accommodations if they cause undue hardship on the work operations of the employer.

See Act 206.

An employer may have to do all of these or some of these, but remember the standard is “reasonable” accommodation, thus whatever is necessary to protect the victim-employee and make them feel safe should be implemented to the employer’s ability without it impacting their operations.

If an employer is already experienced in handling ADA reasonable accommodations many of these changes and the kind of process you have to go through should seem familiar. However, the slight difference here is you are kind of protecting the identity and safety of the victim, so that the person harming them cannot find and harass them. Also when handling this kind of situation, remember your obligation to keep a safe work environment for ALL your employees.

Thanks for following my New Law in the Brief posts. Law in the Brief will be going from regular posting to special posting until next year. This does not mean there are no new laws in Hawaii. In fact, there are a 235 Acts from this past legislative session. You can check them out here.

Just click Law in the Brief, to see the past posts.

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*Disclaimer: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.