Tallahassee Fails to Push Forward Bills to Protect Victims of Crimes

August 23, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

House Bill 1467: Employment Benefits and Accommodations for Crime Victims and Witnesses, and Senate Bill 1838: Employee Protections, are both criminal justice reform bills aimed at further protecting victims of crime. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are at the center of these bills, hoping their implementation will help “maintain human dignity while trying to improve mental health and strengthen rehabilitation.” However, those at the Florida Capitol have not fully welcomed the bills.

What Do the Bills Say?

Both bills focus on granting employee protections, benefits, and accommodations to victims of crime. Specifically, House Bill 1467 does the following:

“Revises reasons for which employees are not disqualified for reemployment assistance benefits; requires documentation for leaves or work accommodations for employees who are crime victims or witnesses or have family members who are crime victims or witnesses; requires employees to exhaust other leaves before taking specified leaves; provides confidentiality requirements; requires employers to provide reasonable work accommodations; prohibits employers from engaging in specified actions; authorizes employees to claim as damages all wages & benefits for violations.”

Furthermore, Senate Bill 1838, proposed by Florida Senator Shevrin Jones, provides that:”

“Individuals who voluntarily leave work for specified reasons are not disqualified from reemployment benefits; prohibiting the employment record of an employer from being charged for benefits paid to individuals who voluntarily leave work as a result of specified circumstances related to a homicide or individuals who are a witness, or have an immediate family member who is a witness, to certain crimes; increasing the amount of leave an employer must allow an employee to take if the employee or a family or household member of the employee is the victim of domestic violence or sexual violence; revising the specified reasons for which an employee may take such leave, etc.”

Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton, codified the principle that “workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care.” The FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to bond with a newborn, an adopted or newly placed child, care for a seriously sick child, parent, or spouse, or care for their own serious illness without the overwhelming fear that they will be fired from their job. In addition, amendments have extended the protections enumerated in the Act, allowing for workers with family in the armed military to take time off to attend situations “arising from a parent, spouse, son or daughter’s foreign deployment and up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness.”

The Importance

Both bills are imperative in helping victims of crimes, their families, and witnesses of crimes receive the time off from work needed to deal with the physical, emotional, and mental effects of their victimization. It is quite surprising that, until the proposal of these bills, victims of crimes, especially domestic or sexual violence, had not been able to take the time they need from work to recover from their gruesome experiences without potentially losing their jobs. Most human resource policies are silent when it comes to these matters, making the bills even more necessary for victims who should be afforded understanding and empathy from their employers. In addition, both bills prioritize allowing victims to receive the resources that are needed in their healing. Aswad Thomas, chief organizer at the Alliance for Safety and Justice, and a victim of a crime himself, illustrated the importance of these bills, stating “we want people to at least file for victim’s compensation, bury a loved one, access the resources and support they need before returning to their daily responsibilities of work.”

Both bills were intended to go into effect on July 1, 2021. However, neither bill made it past their subcommittee review this past April.

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

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