Odds are, Domestic Violence has Touched Your Workplace; What’s an Employer’s Responsibility?

Maybe you’re convinced that none of the employees in your organization can possibly be a victim of domestic violence. Sure, they may have had a marital spat here or there but they just don’t fit into your depiction of a battered person. I’m here to tell you that they don’t have to.

Domestic violence affects people of all walks of life – any age, any race, and any socioeconomic status. It also affects 1 in 3 Michigan families. So odds are that your organization employs someone who is experiencing abuse.

If your employee is a victim of domestic violence it can follow her to work, as well as impact her coworkers and your entire organization. Do you know what to look for? The more educated your employees are, the more likely they will be able to come forward in the event they are being abused.

One of your employees is being abused by her partner. What now?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not have laws that specifically protect victims of domestic or dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. However, when considering employment decisions, be advised that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act may apply to employment situations involving applicants and employees in these situations.

With no federal law that mandates specific action by an employer, you can just leave it up to the employee, right?

If you are aware of an issue but don’t address it and an incident occurs, you not only put other employees’ safety at risk but you can also expose your business to negligence liability, OSHA penalty and/or workers’ compensation expenses. Even without an incident, you may end up paying unemployment compensation to an employee who was justified in leaving due to safety concerns.

What laws exist that will help my employee escape the abuse?

According to the American Bar Association, in the last 12 years the legal system has advanced to, “…reflect a progression from addressing the immediate legal needs of victims to addressing the long-term needs that enable them to live lives free from violence.”

It is ideal to connect the employee to a local domestic violence organization that employs advocates who can provide support and education through the legal system. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time away from work may be available to an employee who is being abused to address health-related issues from the violence. There are also domestic violence statutes that exist to help hold abusers accountable.

Filing a personal protection order (also known as a PPO or restraining order) may be necessary in seeking protection from an abuser. The purpose of any PPO is to protect the person requesting the PPO by restricting the respondent’s (person the PPO is against) contact with them. The need for this protection may be due to ongoing harassment, threats of violence or harm, assaults or stalking behavior. As an employer, you would want to be aware of a current PPO in case the abuser shows up at your place of business.

As you can see, what you may have once dismissed as a “marital spat,” may actually be much larger. I urge you to voluntarily educate yourself and your employees and establish a policy that protects your staff and your business. We all have a responsibility to help bring an end to the prevalent community issue of domestic violence because everyone deserves to live without fear.

HAVEN is available to host employee and employer education sessions. For more information please contact Emily Matuszczak at (248) 334-1284.

This post originally appeared on Beth Morrison’s Crain’s Detroit Business blog.

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Filed under Call to action, DV in the Workplace

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