Workplace Laws Assist Victims of Domestic Violence

By: Faith Alejandro. This was posted Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

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Victims of domestic violence often keep their secrets hidden from the workplace until they need leave to go to court, or don’t show up for work one day due to physical or psychological harm caused by a spouse or loved one. Many states are now protecting these absences with statutory protections.

Thirteen states, including North Carolina  and several cities specifically permit leave for employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  With this leave time, victims can deal with the effects of domestic violence, without worrying about losing their job, i.e., seek medical, psychological, or legal assistance, attend court, work with law enforcement, spend time in a safe house, or relocate.    Other states, such as Virginia  protect employees who are summoned to court as victims of a crime.  

For example, employees who are summoned to court as victims of crimes cannot be fired, cannot be subjected to adverse personnel action, and cannot be compelled to use their sick leave or vacation time, as long as “reasonable notice” is provided to the employer.  The law also limits employers from imposing certain work shifts too close to the time required in court.  Violation of this statute carries criminal liability for the employer.  

Several other states have pending legislation that would permit leave to victims of domestic violence.  Most recently, New Jersey approved legislation that requires both public and private employers with 25 or more employees to provide up to 20 days of unpaid leave to employee-victims of domestic violence.  The amount of leave time varies from state to state. Florida, for example, only offers 3 days of leave time.

New York has proposed legislation that not only would allow 90 days of unpaid leave, but also   would require employers to make “reasonable accommodations,” including time off to seek medical or psychological attention, shelter services, and legal assistance.   In fact, New York has recognized domestic violence victims as a protected class under the New York State Human Rights Law.  This protects discrimination or retaliation in the workplace based on an employee’s status as a domestic violence victim. 

Laws across the nation also vary in terms of scope and qualification.  North Carolina, like New Jersey, permits leave if the employee needs time to obtain relief from domestic violence for minor children in the custody or living with the employee. But some states permit leave only if the employee is a victim.  Other states permit leave only if the employee works for a certain number of hours. And some states, including North Carolina, permit employers to require documentation of emergencies that prevent employees from complying with the employer’s usual time-off policy or procedure or to support the employee’s absence from the workplace. 

Federal legislation has also been proposed to bump up protection for victims of domestic violence.  The Security and Financial Empowerment Act H.R. 1229 would amend the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act to mandate up to 30 days of leave for victims.  The Healthy Families Act  would require employers to permit victims to use paid sick leave to address the effects of domestic violence. 

As national attention continues to focus on domestic violence in the workplace, other initiatives have emerged, such as the implementation of workplace codes of conduct meant to address bullying, which state courts have cited to show their intolerance of workplace bullies. In support of the Healthy Families Act, the Center for Disease Control reported that employers suffer over $700 million in lost productivity due to employees who miss work because of domestic violence. 

Obviously, employers desire to operate safe workplace environments.  They can help ensure safe working zones by instituting workplace policies that comply with the increased number of state laws emerging across the nation.      

In fact, some states permit employers to obtain restraining orders on behalf of their employees while at work.  North Carolina, for example, permits employers to seek civil no-contact orders on behalf of employees who have been subject to “unlawful conduct,” which includes physical injury or threats of violence in the workplace. Importantly, this process is available only after the employer consults with the employee victim to determine if the employee’s safety would be further jeopardized, such as by angering the perpetrator. 

If you are interested in more information about implementing domestic violence workplace policies, the Employment Law Team at Sands Anderson  would be happy to assist you.

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