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What’s your duty to accommodate domestic violence victims?

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Employees bring their families with them to work every day—even though you may not physically see them in the office. Sometimes, family issues flare up into domestic violence. About a dozen states have laws that allow employees to take job-protected leave from work to deal with domestic-violence issues (obtain medical care, get psychological treatment, attend court hearings, etc.)

But take note: Even if your state doesn’t have a specific law, you may need to grant such rights as a matter of “public policy.” A recent court ruling from Washington state shows the legal risks …    

CASE IN POINT: Ramona Danny was a scheduling manager for a transit organization in Washington state. Ramona says she and her five children were constantly subjected to domestic violence by her husband. Eventually, she moved out and left her five children. A few months later, she told her supervisor about the situation and requested leave to move her children out of the abusive home. Her supervisor denied the request, saying Ramona’s responsibility to a large project with tight deadlines prohibited the leave.

A few months later, Ramona’s husband allegedly beat their 13-year-old son so severely that he required hospitalization. Ramona immediately moved all the children out of the home. When she returned to work, she again requested leave to move her children into a shelter. The supervisor granted a two-week leave. Ramona used that time to seek police protection from her husband, assist in his prosecution for the beating, find transitional housing and receive domestic violence counseling.

A month after Ramona returned to work from her leave, she was demoted. Two months later, she was fired for allegedly falsifying payroll records. Ramona sued.

At the time, Washington state didn’t have a state law providing employment protection for victims of domestic abuse. But Ramona claimed that the state had established a “public policy” prohibiting employers from firing workers because they experienced domestic violence or took leave related to it. (Danny v. Laidlaw Transit Servs. Inc., Wash., No. 78421-3, 10/03/08).

What happened next and what lessons can be learned?

The Washington State Supreme Court sided with Ramona, ruling that victims of domestic violence can’t be forced to choose between protecting their lives and protecting their livelihoods.

Thanks in part to her testimony, the state legislature voted in 2008 to ensure that victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking can take time off from work to deal with the effects of the crimes. One judge in support of Ramona’s rights wrote, “We should hold that, at the time the employer discharged Ramona Danny, public policy clearly prohibited an employer from discharging an employee because of his or her status as a domestic violence victim or because the employee obtained a protection order, assisted the prosecution of the perpetrator, removed children from an abusive environment, and/or accessed services for domestic violence victims.”

3 Lessons Learned …Without Going to Court

1. Be humane. I cannot imagine any project on this planet that could be so important that it would justify denying Ramona her initial request for leave.

2. No laws in your state? Check out public policies. As in this case, while there was not a specific law protecting the employee against domestic violence, there was plenty of state legislative intent recorded to support a “public policy” protection.

3. Don’t mess with an employee’s job after leave. It only took a month before Ramona was demoted and a few more months until she was fired. As I keep pointing out, courts have “legal stopwatches” and they start it with the request for leave and stop it when you take action against the person. If it’s been clocked in as a short time, you may be forced to write a big check.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

The terminated victim July 15, 2009 at 5:34 pm

I am glad to see this article. I was terminated after going to court against my husband for domestic violence. The day I went to court, I didnt return to work for the last 2 hrs of my shift as I was in no condition to work. My previous employer, required that I return to work after court or to call & a letter from court as proof of attendance in court, which they received.

Three weeks after court, the company investigated me for not returning to work or calling and stated I falsified records because on the bottom of my court letter, I wrote a note to the supervisor.

After I was terminated, I went back to the District Attorneys office and they reissued the letter to match the time I was actually in court and was appalled by the employers actions.

Since then I have contacted the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, the Victims Rights Attorney office which both were appalled by the behavior also. To date I am still unemployed, and receiving unemployment. But now the company is trying to take away my unemployment.

I will be using this article and any other information I can find in regards to this subject. It is sad that even though all of management knew why I was in court, that they would use such an unfortunate situation to downsize the company.

Reply

Judi November 7, 2008 at 9:36 am

fyi

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Wendy B. November 6, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Wonder if Arizona has a provision too? I’ll have to contact my state senator and find out. Thanks for this informative article, though!! :)

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Lorrie Wooster November 6, 2008 at 1:14 pm

I agree with Tena, and have the same question. I especially want to know if that monster of a husband went to jail! Is that poor kid OK?? Did he and the other kids get at least some counseling?

Reply

Tena November 6, 2008 at 12:14 pm

what was the legal outcome for Ms. Danny. Reinstatement, back wages, etc.? Cant imagine what type of person could deny time off in these circumstances. Wouldnt be able to sleep myself……….

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