Q. We have learned that one of our employees has been subjected to domestic violence and has a restraining order against her boyfriend. We are concerned that the man might become violent in our workplace. We are considering terminating the employee to make sure that our other employees are safe. Does such a termination raise any legal issues?
A. Actually, the EEOC issued a guidance describing how such an action may be a form of discrimination under federal law. While the federal laws, such as Title VII and the ADA, do not directly prohibit discrimination against applicants or employees who experience domestic violence, the guidance points out that the employer’s action may be based on a sex-based or disability-based stereotype and would therefore be a form of discrimination under those laws.
The guidance provides several examples of treatment that may be based on sex-based stereotypes. One describes the firing of an employee after learning that she was subjected to domestic violence because the employer feared the potential “drama battered women bring into the workplace.”
While the guidance does not address concerns by employers for the safety of other employees, it is likely that the EEOC would conclude that the termination of the employee was based on a sex-based stereotype. Unless you have some specific information about a threat by the boyfriend to pursue the employee into the workplace, you may have difficulty showing that the decision was not based on a sex-based stereotype.
While safety of your employees is very important, you may want to think about other ways to ensure their safety.