Domestic violence isn't always domestic. It comes to the workplace as lost productivity, excessive, employee depression, increased health costs and, in the worst-case scenario, as violence at the workplace. What starts as a private problem becomes an employment-law problem when:
- OSHA comes calling. Federal safety law requires employers to provide a safe workplace.
- Domestic-abuse victims suffer some psychological or physical harm. These may be serious health conditions that require or disabilities requiring ADA accommodations.
- Domestic violence between married or dating co-workers triggers sexual harassment charges.
Some statelaws allow employees time off after domestic violence, even if their injuries aren't serious enough to trigger leave. Plus, 21 states allow people to collect unemployment compensation if they have to quit due to domestic violence (see box below).
In 19 states, confidentiality laws allow domestic violence victims to use state-provided "dummy" addresses. Employers who reveal the employee's true address could be liable.
New government stats show that domestic violence costs American businesses $727 million in lost productivity each year. That includes 7.9 million lost workdays.
Failing to adequately protect your employees from violence can prove costly in court. The average jury award in "inadequate security" lawsuits is $1.2 million. Settlements in such cases average about $600,000, according to the Family Violence Protection Fund.
Finally, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so now's a good time to make sure you're in compliance.
How to comply
First, discover your state law concerning domestic violence. Then, develop policies and procedures to meet your obligations. (New York's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence offers a model employer policy at www.opdv.state.ny.us/workplace/privatepolicy.html.)
Make sure you equip your EAP program to handle domestic violence situations. Best practices: Provide phone numbers and links to support resources in the workplace and community; promise not to discriminate against domestic-violence victims; agree to waive (when possible) spousal signatures ondocuments should the victim leave the abuser; warn employees that they'll be disciplined for using company facilities to harass or threaten family members.
Allow employees/victims some leeway but not carte blanche. You should still expect domestic-violence victims to come to work when possible and perform their jobs.
Avoid the most common mistake: applying time off due to a domestic-abuse battering in a no-fault attendance program. If you do that, and the employee's injuries are considered a serious health condition, you'll violate the FMLA.
Four final compliance tips:
- Physical injuries and mental conditions created by domestic violence may cause the worker to be "disabled" under the ADA or related state law. That means you may need to offer time off or counseling as a reasonable accommodation to allow the person to continue employment.
- Employers face liability if an employee uses company facilities (phone, e-mail, company vehicles, etc.) to harass, stalk or abuse family members. Make supervisors aware of this, and discipline offenders.
- If you discover that an employee is breaking a law, such as violating a protection-from-abuse order, report the employee to law enforcement officials.
- Find related advice online at sites such as, www.stopfamilyviolence.org, www.ncdsv.org and www.ncadv.org.
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