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Check state law before firing victim of a stalker

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in Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Q. One of our female employees says her ex-boyfriend is stalking her. She hasn't been able to get a restraining order against him. We're worried that he may show up and do her or other workers harm. Can we fire or suspend her? —B.L., Florida

A. First, as a legal matter, no federal law prohibits you from terminating or suspending this employee because of her association with a stalker. Remember: At-will employees who want to sue generally must show that they were discriminated against on the basis of some protected classification, such as race, religion, age or disability. Having a violent ex-boyfriend isn't protected.

However, some states may have special protections in place for victims of domestic violence. For example, a recent Illinois law gives victims and affected family members up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with stalking, domestic violence and its aftermath. Pennsylvania gives unpaid leave for anyone who must testify as a victim of a crime. Other states have similar provisions.

Also, if the employee being stalked suffers psychological or physical damage, her condition may qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA, which entitles her to protection from being fired because she took FMLA leave.

Finally, if this employee continues to work, your company must ensure her a safe workplace. You have been provided with notice that a potentially dangerous person may show up. Consider beefing up security.

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