April 10, 2021
Ariane Vigna, Boston University State House Program for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette
BOSTON — A bill extending workplace protections for domestic violence survivors working in contract jobs is aimed at closing a loophole that allowed a woman to be put out of a job after she missed work to recover from domestic violence injuries, according to sponsors Sen. Ryan C. Fattman, R-Sutton, and Rep. Joseph D. McKenna, R-Webster.
The current state labor law allows for a leave of absence of 15 days for direct employees who were victims of domestic violence. It does not extend to contracted workers such as Amanda Dabrowski, who was fatally stabbed in 2019 by her former partner Carlos Asencio at O’Connor’s Restaurant & Bar in Worcester.
“The bill came about from such a tragic situation,” Fattman said. “A lovely family loses one of their daughters and I would argue strongly that had this law been in place, there’s a chance she wouldn’t go through that downward spiral.
“Losing her job had tremendous consequences on her life,” he added. “Her family paid the consequences for it and it’s unacceptable.”
Asencio allegedly attacked Dabrowski on April 21, 2019. As she was recovering from her extensive injuries, Dabrowski missed two days of work at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Devens, where she was working through a temporary agency. She was dismissed on April 23. Less than three months later, Asencio allegedly fatally stabbed Dabrowski.
“After Dabrowski was assaulted in her house with a deadly weapon, the company terminated her contract,” he added. “We’re seeking to patch up that loophole and protect temporary employees that might be involved in domestic violence that inhibits them from working temporarily.”
Dabrowski’s father told the Telegram & Gazette that his daughter could have used the 15 days leave of absence “to get her life back together” after she was attacked, but “was never given that opportunity.”
Deborah Hall, director of domestic violence services at YWCA Central Massachusetts, said that the organization supports the extension of workplace protections to contracted workers.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Hall said. “That safety net should be provided. When you can’t go to work, you can’t go to work.
“On top of the abuse, being scared of losing your job makes the situation even worse,” she added. “When you’re a survivor, you have to uproot and change your life, so it’s important to keep that thing that was consistent – your job.”
Hema Sarang-Sieminski, policy director at Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, said that survivors should be able to take time off without fear that their economic security will be jeopardized.
“Whether it’s accessing medical care or getting a restraining order, survivors need to carve out a number of hours during traditional business hours to begin that very long healing process,” Sarang-Sieminski said.
Under the current law, an employer cannot terminate an employee for missing work because of domestic violence injury. But Dabrowski wasn’t fired; instead, Bristol-Myers didn’t renew her contract through the temporary employment agency.
“The company terminated her contract and I would argue that they essentially fired her,” Fattman said. “Because when you look at her performance evaluations and see that her contract had been extended and she was given a raise, it’s clear she was doing great.”
The proposed legislation would define what a temporary worker is and cover them under the law.
Fattman said the bill was urgent in light of the pandemic, as new stresses brought about by job losses and lockdowns may lead to an increase in domestic violence.
“Certain stressors that weren’t there pre-pandemic were put on society,” he said. “Domestic violence incidents happen when people’s lives are upended and there are new stressors like losing your job, schools shutting down and kids staying home, or caring for a loved one who is sick.”
McKenna agreed and said the bill was relevant in light of the isolation survivors found themselves in during the pandemic.
“We need to shine a light on the issue,” he said. “People are at home in close quarters and unable to leave their abuser so the bill becomes incredibly pertinent in this situation.”
Fattman said the bill had gotten support but the pandemic shut down the legislative process just days after the legislation was filed in March. In November 2019, the two lawmakers met with the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, as well as the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.
“We got momentum and endorsements, but with COVID-19, everything public health-related got more attention so the bill got sidetracked,” he said. “Now we’re doubling down to make sure this legislation passes.”
McKenna said he discussed the bill with temporary employment agencies and business advocacy groups, including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, who said they wouldn’t oppose the bill.
“My concern was that they would see the bill as an encroachment on businesses operating in the way they see fit,” he said. “Our conversations were productive and they didn’t see this as an affront. It’s truly about getting victims the protections they deserve.”
“In honor of Amanda’s life and to prevent this sort of tragedy, we’re trying to do what we can to make sure every worker has the same protections,” he added. “Domestic violence survivors don’t need to be victimized twice, once from the assault and once from unfair employment laws.”