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What Employers Need to Know About Domestic Violence Protections

Christine Batten, PHR
by Christine Batten, PHR on October 16, 2017

Domestic Violence Ribbon.jpgDomestic or dating violence may seem like something too personal to creep into the workplace. But, if you think employees only deal with this type of situation at home, you may be surprised to learn the issues that come with abuse can follow a person to work. Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we thought it would be a good time to review what obligations employers might have to an employee who is the victim of domestic violence.

You may not be aware of required leave laws in your state and other domestic violence protections your employees might have in these types of situations. The laws vary state by state, but as an example, let’s take a look at what’s required in Florida. Employers who have 50 or more employees must allow for three days of leave in any 12-month period. The leave is unpaid, but employees can choose to use accrued vacation, PTO or sick leave.

Employees who have been a victim of domestic violence may take leave to:

  • Seek an injunction for protection against domestic violence or an injunction for protection in cases of repeat dating or sexual violence.
  • Obtain medical care or mental health counseling for yourself or your family or household member to address physical or psychological injuries resulting from the domestic violence.
  • Obtain services from a victim services organization for yourself or your family or household member.
  • Make your home secure from the perpetrator of domestic violence or seek new housing to escape the perpetrator.
  • Seek legal assistance in addressing issues arising from the domestic violence or prepare for and attend court-related proceedings arising from the domestic violence.

What other protections might your employees have?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability. Because these federal EEO laws do not specifically prohibit discrimination against applicants or employees who experience domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, potential employment discrimination and retaliation against these individuals may be overlooked. However, that doesn’t mean that an investigation won’t reveal that discrimination actually occurred.

Here are some examples of employment decisions that may violate Title VII or the ADA and involve applicants or employees who experience domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking:

  • An employer terminates an employee after learning she has been subjected to domestic violence, saying he fears the potential "drama battered women bring to the workplace."
  • A hiring manager, believing that only women can be true victims of domestic violence because men should be able to protect themselves, does not select a male applicant when he learns that the applicant obtained a restraining order against a domestic partner.
  • An employer searches an applicant's name online and learns that she was a complaining witness in a rape prosecution and received counseling for depression. The employer decides not to hire her based on a concern that she may require future time off for continuing symptoms or further treatment of depression.

The ADA may require employers to provide reasonable accommodation requested for an actual disability that can include time off for treatment, modified work schedules, and reassignment to a vacant position. Here’s an example of a scenario that could put the employer in violation:

  • An employee who has no accrued sick leave and whose employer is not covered by the FMLA requests a schedule change or unpaid leave to get treatment for depression and anxiety following a sexual assault by an intruder in her home. The employer denies the request because it "applies leave and attendance policies the same way to all employees."

How can you help?

You can help your employees by learning to recognize the signs of domestic violence and providing information to your employees. If you need advice on a specific scenario or guidance on what is required in your state, FrankAdvice is a service offered to FrankCrum clients. Call 1-800-277-1620 ext. 7.

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Christine Batten, PHR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christine Batten, PHR

Christine has over 20 years of HR related experience with a background in labor and employment law.