Berkeley, please update your policies

CITY AFFAIRS: City audit findings on domestic violence leave policy necessitate immediate action.

Illustration of filing cabinet with folder titled Domestic Violence
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

In January 2019, the California labor codes were updated to reflect additional workplace support for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking, and cities throughout the state were expected to update their employment policies accordingly.

The city of Berkeley, however, apparently hasn’t updated its employment leave language yet, as recently found by the city auditor, Jenny Wong. The current city policy allows employees to take leave if they are victims of domestic violence, but the policy entirely omits sexual violence and stalking. In fact, the audit report found that the city’s domestic violence policy is quite behind in terms of keeping up with state law. 

Considering the amendment passed in the state legislature at the beginning of 2019, it’s reasonable to assume that the city would change the policy accordingly and that a slow down in such change might be because it simply has not addressed the topic yet. But the administrative regulation in question — the policy in which sexual violence and stalking should be mentioned — was last updated in March 2019, with no recognition of the amendments to the state labor code. 

To play devil’s advocate, perhaps the city figured it could leave sexual violence and stalking out because of other policies designed to assist such victims. But the audit report notes that if these terms are not explicitly defined in the leave policy, employees might be unaware that they can request time off if they are facing sexual violence or stalking. There are many ways sexual harassment manifests, and specifically granting leave for employees because of these incidents is a valuable step in supporting victims. 

The auditor’s report mentioned that the city should encourage employees to reach out to human resources, or HR, if they experience domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault of any sort. But that’s exactly the point of HR, so shouldn’t city employees already be made aware of that? At the very least, survivors should know that they have a designated entity to turn to in times of need.

On top of that, it’s odd that the city’s domestic violence leave policy outlines fewer resources than the state law. At the local level, policies about domestic violence need to be more comprehensive and detailed. Survivors should feel comfortable asking their supervisors about where to get help, and supervisors should be well-equipped to provide assistance and useful guidance if their employees are experiencing sexual harassment of any kind.

Even though the word “audit” might have a negative connotation, audits are helpful in identifying things to improve, especially coming from a nonpartisan source. It’s disappointing that it took an audit to bring the policy to the forefront of the agenda, but it’s good to recognize how important they are in fixing flawed policy.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.