The term “domestic violence” can be a misnomer. Violence between intimate partners often reaches outside the home, and certainly it impacts the workplace. As a business owner, you should be aware of your legal responsibilities as well as how this “domestic” problem affects employees on the job. The statistics speak for themselves:
- In a 1997 survey, 24 percent of women who were victims of intimate partner violence said the abuse caused them to be tardy or absent from work.
- In a 2000 study, more than 25 percent of stalking victims reported missing work as a result of stalking.
- The Department of Labor reported that homicide was the second-leading cause of death on the job for women in 2000.
- An overwhelming majority of business owners report having dealt with partner abuse scenarios, including workers who were either protected by a restraining order or the subject of one.
- Of intimate partner violence survivors, 74 percent have indicated that their abusers harassed them at work. Further, victims who have left abusive partners remain especially vulnerable at work because it is the one place their abusers can locate and harm them.
Domestic violence against employees can have significant legal ramifications for employers. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to maintain a safe workplace for employees. This includes a general duty to provide a workplace free from recognized safety hazards, including violent attacks. If you, as an employer, are aware that an employee is vulnerable to a violent attack in the workplace and you fail to take adequate security measures, you may be subject to enforcement actions. A hostile work environment, for which an employer may be liable under Title VII, may be caused by harassment inflicted by nonemployees when the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take immediate corrective action.
Also, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to allow workers to take time off to seek medical attention for serious health conditions arising from violence by an abuser; this applies to employees as well as their children.
As an Arizona employer, it’s also important to know your that employees may take time off to obtain restraining orders or injunctions against harassment. They are also entitled to leave work to attend criminal proceedings against those who have victimized them.
Employers should proceed with caution when confronted with issues of domestic violence. You may want to consult with your attorney for advice on federal, state and local laws to ensure that all executives, supervisors, etc., are properly trained on handling employee complaints.
Intimate partner violence is not just a private problem, nor is it confined to the home. Employers can and should provide a workplace that is safe and secure for all their employees.
SUGGESTIONS FOR EMPLOYERS
- Make every effort to accommodate employees’ requests when addressing intimate-partner violence, including relocating workstations or altering schedules.
- If the situation involves a restraining order, consider obtaining a copy of the order and encouraging the involvement of local law enforcement.
- Grant victims’ requests to take time off to attend court proceedings, obtain medical treatment, get protective orders, etc.
- Publicize a clear policy that your company does not tolerate workplace violence.
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