Currently, federal law protects American citizens from stalking and punishes the act as a crime. States also have laws in place to police stalking. California, for instance, punishes stalking with a fine of up to $1000 or one year of imprisonment. However, California did not have a law in place concerning retaliation against stalking victims at work. An amendment added to the California Constitution in October of last year will change that.

A Prevalent Occurrence

Every year, a total 3.4 million people over the age of 18 are stalked in the United States.  Stalking occurs more with women than with men, with 1 in 6 women experience stalking compared to 1 in 19 men. Interestingly, 1 in 4 stalking victims are stalked through an electronic device or means of communication such as a cell phone, email account or social media account – which adequately reflects the rise of cyberstalking.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a Supplemental Victimization Survey (SVS) to identify seven types of harassing behavior associated with stalking: relationship of the perpetrator to victim; onset, duration, and desistance; other crimes and injuries committed against the victim in conjunction with stalking; victim response; criminal justice response; and cost to victim.

The study revealed that the highest forms of stalking include being followed or spied on and the offender showing up in places where they had no legitimate purpose and/or waiting in places for the victim. Stalking seemed to occur most frequently among victims with lower income and within the age ranges of 18 to 19 and 20 to 24.

Stalking in California

In California, stalking is defined as willfully, maliciously and repeatedly following or harassing someone and making a credible threat with the intent to place a person in reasonable fear for his or her safety. Stalking is a misdemeanor offense. However, when it is a secondary or subsequent offense or involves aggravating factors such as possession of a deadly weapon, it could become a felony.

Remedies for stalking in California are also available under civil law. According to California civil law, victims of stalking are entitled to general damages, special damages and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. The tort for stalking includes language similar to the criminal law, and defines “credible threat” as one made with the “intent and apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person to reasonably fear for his safety or the safety of his or her immediate family.”

Stalking and Employment

Stalking becomes an issue in the workplace when with the victim or offender is an employee. Nationally, 1 in 8 employed stalking victims lose time from work as a result of their victimization and more than half lose 5 days of work or more. Approximately 58% of stalking victims have lost income due to stalking. Stalking in the workplace is a challenging issue sometimes placing an employee’s career at risk, especially when retaliation is involved.

Because stalking can be such a personal issue, some employers may not treat an employee’s complaints as serious or worth handling with company resources. When this is the case, an employee’s job may be place in jeopardy as the staling intensifies or continues. According to the SVS, stalking victimization can last up to six months with 11% of those surveyed reporting being stalked for 5 years or more.

Legislative Remedy

In 1990, California became the first state to address stalking as a crime. Now, with the amendment to the California Constitution, victims can also receive protection from retaliation on the job as a result of stalking

The amendment extends existing legal protections for victims of domestic violence against retaliation and discrimination at work to victims of stalking. Specifically, it prevents “an employer from discharging or in any manner discriminating or retaliating against an employee because of the employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking if the victim provides notice to the employer of the status or the employer has actual knowledge of the status.” (italics added)

The amendment also requires victims to provide reasonable accommodation for victims of stalking. This means that employers must honor an employee’s request for protection for stalkers at work or initiate communication with employees who have revealed their status as victims. The accommodations may include implementation of safety measures or procedures specifically for victims of stalking.

Holding Work Stalkers Accountable

These protections emphasize that offenders, not victims, should be held accountable for stalking at work and ensures that a victim’s pay, job status and more are secured from adverse action from employers. This is a major step toward providing protection for all employees, but especially for low-income workers and women who are often hardest hit by stalking victimization.

Though 20 years ago stalking was not a frequently heard of crime, today it’s prevalence is quickly growing. With the advent of technology stalkers have much easier access to victims – access that is anonymous and relatively cost-free. This means that stalking can easily affect an employee at work and directly involves employers when company resources are used as a means to accomplish stalking and stalking victimization.

California’s new amendment adds a much-needed hedge of protection for victims of stalking in the workplace. It allows employee-victims to work in agreement with an employer to combat the negative effects of stalking without putting their jobs on the line.